Two U.S. Navy sailors have been apprehended on charges of espionage for China, according to federal prosecutors. The sailors, Jinchao “Patrick” Wei, a 22-year-old petty officer 2nd class, and Petty Officer Wenheng Zhao, 26, are accused of providing national defense information to Chinese intelligence officials in exchange for financial compensation. The cases against the two are separate.
Wei, who served as a machinist’s mate aboard the USS Essex, was arrested on charges of espionage, specifically conspiracy to and committing the communication of defense information to aid a foreign government. The USS Essex is currently undergoing maintenance at the Naval Base in San Diego.
Zhao, a resident of Monterey Park, California, was arrested by FBI and NCIS agents on charges of conspiracy and receipt of a bribe by a public official. Zhao worked at the Naval Base Ventura County in Port Hueneme and had an active U.S. security clearance, giving him access to classified information. Both Zhao and Wei had access to material classified as secret.
Matthew Olsen, the Justice Department’s assistant attorney general for national security, stated that the alleged crimes committed by Wei and Zhao resulted in sensitive military information being handed over to the People’s Republic of China. Olsen emphasized the seriousness of the charges, highlighting the violation of the military’s obligation to protect the country and its secrets.
Neither Wei nor Zhao have entered pleas or retained attorneys to comment on their behalf. Both made their initial court appearances on Thursday, with Wei in San Diego and Zhao in Los Angeles. They are scheduled to return for detention hearings next week.
The indictments allege that both Wei and Zhao worked with Chinese intelligence officers, providing them with sensitive information related to the technologies they worked with and about upcoming Navy operations. Wei is accused of passing along imagery of the USS Essex, providing the locations of various Navy ships, and providing dozens of technical and manual for systems aboard his ship and other Navy ships. Zhao allegedly provided photos, videos, blueprints for a radar system in Okinawa, and operational plans for a U.S. military exercise in the Pacific Ocean.
If convicted, Wei could face a sentence ranging from 20 years to life in prison, while Zhao could face a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison.