Aug 3, 2023 - Politics & Policy

2 U.S. Navy sailors arrested on charges of sharing sensitive data with China

Naval Base at San Diego

Aerial view of the Naval Base San Diego on March 20, 2020 in San Diego, California. Photo: Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Two U.S. Navy sailors have been arrested on national security charges and accused of sharing sensitive military information with China, prosecutors announced Thursday.

The big picture: Both 22-year-old sailor Jinchao Wei and Petty Officer Wenheng Zhao, 26, are accused in separate cases of sharing military information to Chinese intelligence officials in exchange for cash payments. Both have pleaded not guilty to the charges they face.

Driving the news: Wei was arrested Wednesday as he arrived for work at Naval Base San Diego on espionage charges, per a Department of Justice statement.

  • He is accused of conspiring to send national defense information to an intelligence officer working for China in exchange for thousands of dollars, the DOJ said.

Separately, Petty Officer Wenheng Zhao, 26, who worked at California's Naval Base Ventura County in Port Hueneme, was charged with receiving bribes.

  • He is accused of taking $14,866 in exchange for "photographs and videos of military exercise plans, operational orders and electrical systems at a naval installation," Matt Olsen, assistant attorney general of the DOJ's National Security Division, said at a press conference Thursday.
  • Zhao allegedly sent the sensitive information to an individual posing as a maritime economic researcher who was actually an intelligence officer from the People's Republic of China.
  • He wasn't charged under the Espionage Act, but the DOJ said he could face 20 years in prison if convicted.

What they're saying: "These individuals stand accused of violating the commitments they made to protect the United States and betraying the public trust, to the benefit of the PRC government," Olsen said in a statement.

  • "The PRC compromised enlisted personnel to secure sensitive military information that could seriously jeopardize U.S. national security," Suzanne Turner, assistant director of the FBI's Counterintelligence Division, said in a statement.

What's next: After pleading not guilty in federal courts in Southern California Thursday, a judge ordered they be held until detention hearings scheduled for Aug. 8, per AP.

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