The U.S. Department of Justice reports that two Chinese-American Navy sailors were arrested on espionage charges in the Southern and Central Districts of California on suspicion that they had been passing along classified military information to the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
First Case: United States v. Jinchao Wei, Southern District of California
Jinchao Wei, or Patrick Wei, a 22-year-old naturalized American sailor in the United States Navy, was detained on espionage allegations as he reported for duty at Naval Base San Diego on Wednesday. He was charged with conspiring to disclose sensitive national security secrets to a Chinese intelligence official.
Wei was an active-duty sailor on the U.S.S. Essex, an amphibious assault ship based out of Naval Base San Diego, as stated in the indictment that was unsealed on Thursday. Wei had a top-secret clearance from the United States Navy and was in charge of the ship’s armament, propulsion, and desalination systems.
From March 2022 to the current day, Wei has submitted numerous photos, films, and papers related to US Navy vessels. He was paid a substantial sum of money for the details.
In the accusation, Wei is accused of transmitting technical and mechanical manuals in June, August, and October of 2022. The U.S. Navy regarded many of these papers as “critical technology” with export control warnings.
The indictment also claims that in 2023, Wei provided additional details about the Essex, such as plans for flight deck alterations.
Wei was allegedly directed to collect classified U.S. military intelligence and erase any evidence linking the two parties during the duration of the conspiracy.
Second Case: United States v. Wenheng Zhao, Central District of California
Petty Officer Wenheng Zhao, aka Thomas Zhao, 26, from Monterey Park, California, was indicted by a federal grand jury and subsequently detained.
Zhao is accused of taking bribes from a PRC intelligence official who posed as a maritime economic researcher in order to obtain classified information about the United States Navy.
Zhao had a job at Naval Base Ventura County in Port Hueneme and a clearance to work in the United States. According to the indictment, Zhao accepted bribes from a Chinese intelligence officer totalling around $15,000 in exchange for breaking the law and leaking classified U.S. military material to the public.
The claimed events took place between August 2021 and May 2023. Zhao allegedly followed orders from a Chinese intelligence officer to film and provide photos and videos of U.S. military installations while posing as a maritime economic researcher looking for data for investment purposes.
Zhao is suspected of transmitting classified information about upcoming U.S. military drills in the Indo-Pacific in exchange for bribes. Locations, times, amphibious landings, marine activities, and logistical back-up were all laid out in great detail.
Zhao is also accused of taking pictures of schematics and electrical diagrams for a radar system at a U.S. installation in Okinawa, Japan.
The intelligence officer allegedly instructed Zhao throughout their relationship to keep their relationship secret and to remove any proof of their illegal operation.
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, with IRS Criminal Investigation providing substantial assistance.