2 Navy sailors arrested, accused of providing China with information
Two U.S. Navy sailors have been arrested on charges related to national security and tied to China, U.S. officials said Thursday.
Jinchao Wei, a 22-year-old sailor assigned to the San Diego-based USS Essex, was arrested Wednesday on a charge related to espionage involving conspiracy to send national defense information to Chinese officials, according to the U.S. officials.
Federal officials released an indictment against Wei on Thursday and provided more details at a news conference in San Diego.
In an indictment released Thursday, federal prosecutors allege that Wei made contact with a Chinese government intelligence officer in February 2022, and at the officer’s request, provided photographs and videos of the ship he served on. The information he disclosed included technical and mechanical manuals as well as details about the number and training of Marines during an upcoming exercise, the Justice Department said.
Federal officials said in a news conference Thursday that Wei, who was born in China, was approached by the Chinese officer while he was applying for U.S. citizenship, and the officer even congratulated him when he became a U.S. citizen.
“Wei admitted to his handler that he knew this activity would be viewed as spying and could affect his pending citizenship application. Rather than report the contact, which he was trained to do, he chose instead to hide it,” said Randy Grossman, U.S. attorney for the southern district of California. “Whether it was greed or for some other reason, Wei allegedly chose to turn his back on his newly adopted country and enter a conspiracy with his Chinese handler.”
The Justice Department charged Wei under a rarely-used Espionage Act statute that makes it a crime to gather or deliver information to aid a foreign government.
During the course of the relationship, the unnamed Chinese intelligence officer instructed Wei not to discuss their relationship, to share non-public information with the agent, and to destroy evidence to help them cover their tracks, officials said.
Service records show Wei was stationed aboard the USS Essex. The amphibious assault ship is known as a Landing Helicopter Dock that has a full flight deck and can carry an array of helicopters, including the MV-22 Ospreys.
The Justice Department separately announced charges against a second Navy service member, accusing Wenheng Zhao of collecting bribes in exchange for giving sensitive U.S. military photos and videos to a Chinese intelligence officer.
Over two years, Zhao sent used encrypted communications to send information — including photographs of an operational center in Okinawa, Japan — to China in return for $15,000, Estrada said.
“By sending the sensitive military information to an intelligence officer employed by a hostile foreign state, Mr. Zhao betrayed his sacred oath to defend our country and uphold the constitution. In short, Mr. Zhao chose a path of corruption and in doing so, he sold out his colleagues at the U.S. Navy,” said Martin Estrada, U.S. attorney for the central district of California.
The two sailors were charged with similar crimes, but they were charged as separate cases and it wasn’t clear Thursday if the two were courted or paid by the same Chinese intelligence officer.