Two U.S. Navy Servicemembers Arrested for Transmitting Military Information to the People’s Republic of China

The U.S. Department of Justice seal is displayed on a podium following a news conference

By the Department of Justice

In two separate cases in the Southern and Central Districts of California, two U.S. Navy servicemembers were arrested for transmitting sensitive military information to the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

“These individuals stand accused of violating the commitments they made to protect the United States and betraying the public trust, to the benefit of the PRC government,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division. “The Department of Justice will continue to use every tool in our arsenal to counter threats from China and to deter those who aid them in breaking our laws and threatening our national security.”

“These arrests are a reminder of the relentless, aggressive efforts of the People’s Republic of China to undermine our democracy and threaten those who defend it,” said Assistant Director Suzanne Turner of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division. “The PRC compromised enlisted personnel to secure sensitive military information that could seriously jeopardize U.S. national security. The FBI and our partners remain vigilant in our determination to combat espionage, and encourage past and present government officials to report any suspicious interactions with suspected foreign intelligence officers.”

United States v. Jinchao Wei, Southern District of California

A U.S. Navy sailor, Jinchao Wei, aka Patrick Wei, was arrested yesterday on espionage charges as he arrived for work at Naval Base San Diego, the homeport of the Pacific Fleet. He was indicted for conspiracy to send national defense information to an intelligence officer working for the People’s Republic of China.

The indictment, unsealed this morning, alleges that Wei, was an active-duty sailor on the amphibious assault ship the U.S.S. Essex stationed at Naval Base San Diego. In his role as a machinist’s mate, Wei held a U.S. security clearance and had access to sensitive national defense information about the ship’s weapons, propulsion and desalination systems. Amphibious assault ships like the Essex resemble small aircraft carriers and allow the U.S. military to project power and maintain presence by serving as the cornerstone of the U.S. Navy’s amphibious readiness and expeditionary strike capabilities.

According to the indictment, in February 2022, Wei began communicating with an intelligence officer from the PRC who requested that Wei provide information about the U.S.S. Essex and other Navy ships. Specifically, the Chinese intelligence officer tasked Wei with passing him photos, videos and documents concerning U.S. Navy ships and their systems. The two agreed to hide their communications by deleting records of their conversations and using encrypted methods of communication.

At the request of the intelligence officer, between March 2022 and the present, Wei sent photographs and videos of the Essex, disclosed the locations of various Navy ships and described defensive weapons of the Essex. In exchange for this information, the intelligence officer paid Wei thousands of dollars over the course of the conspiracy.

The indictment further alleges that in June 2022, Wei sent the intelligence officer approximately 30 technical and mechanical manuals. These manuals contained export control warnings and detailed the operations of multiple systems aboard the Essex and similar ships, including power, steering, aircraft and deck elevators, as well as damage and casualty controls. The intelligence officer confirmed with Wei that at least 10 of those manuals were useful to him. For passage of those materials, the indictment alleges that Wei was paid $5,000.

In June 2022, the intelligence officer requested that Wei provide information about the number and training of U.S. Marines during an upcoming international maritime warfare exercise. In response to this request, Wei sent multiple photographs of military equipment to the intelligence officer.

In August 2022, Wei sent an additional 26 technical and mechanical manuals related to the power structure and operation of the Essex and similar ships. The manuals contained warnings that this was technical data subject to export controls and that it was deemed “critical technology” by the U.S. Navy.

The indictment further alleges that in October 2022, Wei sent a technical manual to the intelligence officer describing the layout and location of certain departments, including berthing quarters and weapons systems. Specifically, Wei sent a weapons control systems manual for the Essex and similar ships. This manual contained export-controlled data that could not be exported without a license from the U.S. government. The indictment alleges that Wei knowingly violated the International Traffic in Arms Regulations by transmitting this manual to the Chinese intelligence officer without obtaining a required license. 

The intelligence officer continued to request information in 2023, including information about the overhaul and upgrades to the Essex. Specifically, he requested blueprints, especially those related to modifications to the flight deck. Wei provided information related to the repairs the Essex was undergoing, as well as other mechanical problems with similar vessels.

During the alleged conspiracy, the intelligence officer instructed Wei to gather U.S. military information that was not public and admonished him not to discuss their relationship and to destroy any evidence regarding the nature of their relationship and their activities.

“We have entrusted members of our military with tremendous responsibility and great faith,” said U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman for the Southern District of California. “Our nation’s safety and security are in their hands. When a soldier or sailor chooses cash over country, and hands over national defense information in an ultimate act of betrayal, the United States will aggressively investigate and prosecute.”

U.S. Attorney Grossman thanked the prosecution team and investigating agencies for their excellent work on this case.

The FBI and Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) investigated the case.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys John Parmley and Fred Sheppard for the Southern District of California and Trial Attorney Adam Barry of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section are prosecuting the case.

United States v. Wenheng Zhao, Central District of California

A U.S. Navy servicemember, Petty Officer Wenheng Zhao, aka Thomas Zhao, 26, of Monterey Park, California, was arrested following an indictment by a federal grand jury, charging him with receiving bribes in exchange for transmitting sensitive U.S. military information to an individual posing as a maritime economic researcher, but who was actually an intelligence officer from the PRC.

The indictment alleges that Zhao, who worked at Naval Base Ventura County in Port Hueneme and held a U.S. security clearance, received bribes from a Chinese intelligence officer in exchange for violating his official duties as a U.S. sailor by, among other actions, disclosing non-public sensitive U.S. military information.

Beginning in August 2021 and continuing through at least May 2023, at the Chinese intelligence officer’s direction, Zhao allegedly violated his official duties to protect sensitive military information by surreptitiously recording, and then transmitting to the intelligence officer, U.S. military information, photographs and videos. According to the indictment, the Chinese intelligence officer told Zhao that the intelligence officer was a maritime economic researcher seeking the information for investment decisions.

In exchange for bribes, Zhao allegedly sent the Chinese military officer non-public and controlled operational plans for a large-scale U.S. military exercise in the Indo-Pacific Region, which detailed the specific location and timing of Naval force movements, amphibious landings, maritime operations and logistics support.

The indictment further alleges that in exchange for bribes, Zhao also photographed electrical diagrams and blueprints for a radar system stationed on a U.S. military base in Okinawa, Japan.

The intelligence officer allegedly directed Zhao to conceal their relationship and to destroy evidence of the unlawful and corrupt scheme.

In exchange for the sensitive information Zhao provided – information Zhao accessed as a result of his position within the U.S. Navy – the Chinese intelligence officer paid Zhao approximately $14,866, the indictment alleges.

“By sending this sensitive military information to an intelligence officer employed by a hostile foreign state, the defendant betrayed his sacred oath to protect our country and uphold the Constitution,” said U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada for the Central District of California. “Unlike the vast majority of U.S. Navy personnel who serve the nation with honor, distinction and courage, Mr. Zhao chose to corruptly sell out his colleagues and his country.”

If convicted, Zhao faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. 

The FBI Los Angeles Field Office’s Counterintelligence and Cyber Division and NCIS investigated the case. IRS Criminal Investigation provided substantial assistance. 

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Annamartine Salick, Sarah Gerdes, Christine Ro and Kathrynne Seiden of the Terrorism and Export Crimes Section for the Central District of California are prosecuting this case. Trial Attorney Adam Barry of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section is providing substantial assistance.

An indictment is merely an allegation. All defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.


Written by Anonymous

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  1. “When a soldier or sailor chooses cash over country…”
    Upon the seemingly inevitable moment when China finally completes taking absolute control of our country and celebrates the death of our spirit, this is a phrase that should be etched onto the headstone. Add onto it all the U.S. businesses and politicians that have sold out and cashed in at the expense of our middle class and, ultimately, the heartbeat of our country.

    • The Washington post fact checkers called out Joe Biden for falsely claiming his son did not make any money from China. Hunter admitted he made lots of money from China in court. It will be very interesting to see how this continues to develop as the investigations continue. The people who paid hunter millions were getting something for their money…

    • Oh, Chip. Just a lil’naive.
      Corruption and influence peddling is the norm at the top in this country. Corruption is the mothers’ milk that flows through the veins of the 1% and their political puppets.
      But here’s the thing–there are generally accepted norms of behavior for even that. Once you climb that hill you get that access, you get the government to private sector revolving door, you get a mountain of cash just waiting for you to finish your government “service”, with liberal scoops of dark money channeled to you in the form of trips and vacations and meals and flights and favors even while you are in office. Your friends, your family, your allies, they ALL get a piece.
      It’s the American way and don’t you just love it?
      There are very few things you won’t get away with–but there are still a few. For example, you can’t conspire to defraud the American public by trying to overturn the results of a free and fair election. Nope. That, my Chipper fellow, is a felony.
      If DJT had just operated within the boundaries of normal and acceptable political corruption, like eeeeeeeverybody else, he’d be in great shape. And that is what unchecked ego gets you–major miscalculations about what you can actually get away with and, likely, jail time.
      And, yeah, the cult members will never understand that but trust this–in the next eighteen months we will see violence from DJT’s most extreme followers. Likely directed towards men and women in law enforcement. And when the extreme right cult members start bombing buildings and dropping cops (who the MAGA folks love…to hate) don’t tell me you’ll be surprised, though hopefully you will be saddened.

    • 37562 – I agree 100%, “even worse when an orange moron does so.” But, does the circumstantial evidence related to bribery, influence peddling, money laundering, etc., etc., with the Chinese communists and others point to the “turnip” in the WH or the “orange moron.” Please stay on track and not start commenting about other items of concern. Is the “turnip” or the “orange moron” now under investigation for committing crimes that lead one to believe they and their family sold out/betrayed America? Please answer with just one of the two names.

    • Hey Basic—Besides conflating “Asian” with “Chinese,” the ignorance of which I won’t even touch, do you know any Chinese Americans? If you do, then you probably know they hate the CCP even more than you or I do. They left family and birthplace behind, left a culture in which those two things are extremely important, just to make a new life here. And to have anonymous internet troglodytes tar them with the brush of being traitors. It’s clods like you that led to the internment camps but I hope against odds and recent history that we’re not stupid enough to go back to that collective guilt mentality.

    • LOL. Are you talking about Ivanka and Jared becoming federal employees in the WH, because…. Daddy?…Given questionable security clearances and getting approved for 18 fast-tracked trademarks from China in 2 months along with 2 billion investment from Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman? and making somewhere between $172 and $640 million while serving in the WH?

  2. First off this is about treason a very serious crime Ed hat needs to remove all comments that are not about the article needs to get some control on this it’s not about Biden or Trump it’s about a major crime that was done by individuals that performed treasonous acts that have endangered all our lives if you all do not understand that well we all need help

    • DRELLIM – I’ll try getting my point across about this issue using different terminology. It’s important enough I believe it should remain posted. I’m guessing my comment was down voted and deleted due to a word I used referencing the president. I can’t think of any other reason any person(s) would want to delete another’s opinion or honest and factual comments. I apologize to all I offended. But, as I said earlier, it’s because of the seriousness of this crime most comments should remain, especially those comments related to president Biden and president Trump. One is now, and both have been accused of a similar crime. I agree with you 100% when you state these are “very serious” crimes. Now, today, IMO there is (circumstantial evidence) president Biden committed treason; and possibly (direct evidence), if you want to believe what he said in a video. This video relates to a $1 billion dollar US military aid package for Ukraine and a “corrupt prosecutor;” and the manner in which this prosecutor relates to Mr. Hunter Biden and president Biden. There are also a lot of comments and speculation that president Trump was involved in similar issues, but no evidence I’m aware of. Respectfully, it sounds to me like you, and possibly others, want to muzzle people from learning what’s happening as it relates to president Biden’s suspected activities with Chinese communists and officials in other countries. Circumstantial evidence indicates president Biden illegally gained millions of dollars due to his position as president of the US. I would print the same comments if there was circumstantial evidence identifying Trump of involvement in this crime. For a president to be “suspected” of involvement in a crime such as this is concerning, to have circumstantial evidence of involvement, to me, is disgusting.

    • DOULIE – likely your comment was deleted for being completely off topic. Downvotes don’t get comments deleted, violating the rules does.
      Again, words have consequences. That’s what Donny is learning this week as well. Should be a great learning opportunity for a lot of you bootstrappers and “personal responsibility” lovers.

    • Please do not mince my words this went way off topic and seems there are a lot of Peoples personal feelings being expressed Those are far from fact emotion is not the answer it’s a large web of lies on all sides we need to come together more than not some how for our future we all I feel want the best for our loved ones The atmosphere these days is to combative We all need to get along better to save all of us from what is being played out and protect our great country flaws and all its still the best thing going and there are those whom wish us harm not perfect but better than most even with our failing masters It is changeable If we are willing to kick the hornets nest once in a while peacefully of course

  3. All: please note that these people are not being charged with espionage, but rather violating the International Traffic in Arms Regulation (ITAR). They gave up ‘sensitive, ‘ ITAR-restricted data, not classified information. Thus, no possibility of life in prison or death penalty.

  4. Whoever noted that this will probably make things harder for other Chinese-Americans in the US military was correct. China and Russia are our two biggest geopolitical adversaries and it is prudent to keep an eye on Russia-Americans, Chinese-Americans that have access to top secret programs and materials. The military will try to answer the question of “how did this happen?” with “Here is what we are doing know while we are looking into how this happened” that is how life works, the barn always gets locked after the horses are out

  5. I don’t know why it is so hard to believe Biden might be corrupt. He’s been in Washington for 40 years. It wasn’t hard for me to believe Trump was corrupt, he’d been in real estate in NYC for 40 years.
    I realize people are loyal to their political teams and believe their team would never behave a certain way, but Senator’s salary is $174,000 a year in a town where the cost of living is very high and the whole place is awash in money; deals for speeches, appearances. There are people whose living is made advising Representatives, Senators, Presidents, Supreme Court Justices, AG’s, Secretaries of whatever on how to legally or via loopholery, make the most money possible. The rules are bent, shaved, shaped, and tortured to make the cash flow. Most live and leave as millionaires… if they don’t it is because they aren’t doing anything and no one wants to pay them for a speech.

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