Two United States sailors have been arrested on charges of sharing sensitive information with Chinese intelligence officers. This information has been given in media reports. According to a statement released Thursday by the US Attorney for the Southern District of California, one of the sailors, Jinchao Wei, was arrested on Wednesday as he arrived for work at Naval Base San Diego, reports CNN. It is one of the largest naval establishments.
A BBC report said that the 22-year-old US citizen is accused of conspiring to send national defence information to a Chinese agent. Meanwhile, Petty Officer Wenheng Zhao, 26, who works at Naval Base Ventura County in Port Hueneme, California, was also arrested on Wednesday on charges of accepting money for sensitive photos and videos. However, it is not clear whether the same Chinese agent is alleged to have contacted the pair. The indictment against Wei was unsealed on Thursday and is separate from the charges against Zhao. CNN quoted Matt Olson, the Justice Department’s assistant attorney general for national security, as saying, “These allegations demonstrate (the People’s Republic of China’s) determination to obtain information critical to our national defence by any means necessary.” so that it can be used to their advantage.”
Prosecutors have said that Wei, who worked as a machinist’s mate aboard the USS Essex, allegedly entered into a “handler/asset” relationship with the Chinese agent in February 2022. Significantly, machinist’s mates belong to a class of engineers and are responsible for the operation, maintenance, and repair of a ship’s equipment. The indictment says that as part of that alleged arrangement, Wei sent the Chinese official photos and videos of the Essex and other Navy ships, as well as dozens of technical and mechanical manuals related to the ships’ layout and weapons systems. In return, Wei reportedly received thousands of dollars. The indictment also indicated that Wei received US citizenship during this period, with a Chinese intelligence official congratulating him on receiving the citizenship on May 18, 2022.
Much of the information sent by Wei to the Chinese official was stored on a restricted-access Navy computer system, which Wei was able to access because he had a security clearance. Meanwhile, the indictment against Zhao alleges that between August 2021 and May 2023, he provided sensitive US military information to a man posing as a maritime economic researcher. It also included operational plans for a major military exercise in the Indo-Pacific.
According to prosecutors, Zhao, who was responsible for the installation, repair and service of electrical equipment on US military installations, prosecutors say he also had a security clearance, and he allegedly took pictures of computer screens that showed “military training”. Displayed and provided “operational orders” for the exercise.