One of the two U.S. Navy officers accused of providing classified information to China has been sentenced to 27 months in prison. The officer’s mother claims she begged him to come forward for his betrayal, but he didn’t listen.
Navy Officer Sentenced for Spying
A U.S. Navy petty officer, Wenheng Zhao, has been sentenced to 27 months in prison for his role in providing sensitive military information to a Chinese intelligence officer. Alongside Zhao, another sailor, Jinchao Wei, faces espionage charges, revealing a complex web of Chinese espionage efforts targeted at obtaining critical information about U.S. Navy operations. But what were the motives, actions, and potential repercussions of these espionage activities?
August marked the arrest of Zhao and Wei under suspicion of spying for China. Zhao, stationed at a naval base near Los Angeles, pleaded guilty to conspiring with a foreign intelligence officer and accepting a bribe. His recent sentencing includes 27 months in prison and a $5,500 fine.
U.S. officials revealed that Zhao received nearly $15,000 from the Chinese intelligence officer between August 2021 and May 2023. In return, he handed over critical information regarding U.S. Navy operational security, exercises, and infrastructure. This betrayal breaches the solemn oath Zhao took to defend his country, endangering those who serve in the U.S. military.
Specifics of the Classified Information
Zhao’s betrayal extended to divulging details about a large-scale maritime training exercise in the Pacific. Furthermore, he provided electrical diagrams and blueprints for a radar system in Okinawa, Japan, compromising the security of vital military assets.
Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen condemned Zhao’s actions, stating, “Mr. Zhao betrayed his solemn oath to defend his country and endangered those who serve in the US military.” This condemnation not only shows the severity of the breach but also further reveals China’s persistent attempts to undermine U.S. national security. “The justice department is committed to combatting the Chinese government’s efforts to undermine our nation’s security and holding accountable those who violate our laws as part of those efforts,” Olsen said.
Accusations Against Jinchao Wei
Wei, stationed on the USS Essex, faces accusations of delivering dozens of documents, photos, and videos detailing the operation of ships and their systems to China. The prosecution disclosed that Wei’s mother actively encouraged him to cooperate with a Chinese intelligence officer, potentially influencing his future job prospects with the Chinese government.
During a hearing, it was revealed that Wei’s mother was aware of her son’s arrangement and even encouraged him to continue helping the Chinese intelligence officer. The officer offered incentives such as flying Wei and his mother to China, reimbursing expenses, and assuring potential job opportunities with the Chinese Communist Party. Prosecutors argue that Wei’s actions jeopardized thousands of sailors by revealing sensitive information about navy ships.
Wei has been charged under the Espionage Act, making it a crime to gather or deliver information to aid a foreign government. Born in China, Wei was allegedly approached by a Chinese intelligence officer in 2022 while applying for US citizenship. Prosecutors argue that he provided detailed information on weapons systems and aircraft aboard the USS Essex, posing a significant threat to national security.
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Featured Image Credit: Shutterstock / Marc Sitkin.