Two US Navy sailors charged with funneling defense secrets to Chinese agents

Both sailors received several thousand dollars for sharing descriptions of weapons, ships and movements considered linchpins of deterrence against Chinese aggression.

U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada speaks during a press conference regarding the sailors' charges Thursday, Aug. 3, 2023, in San Diego.

(Daily Caller News Foundation) — Two U.S. Navy sailors were arrested for charges relating to sharing defense secrets with individuals acting as intelligence agents for China, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced Thursday.

China compromised enlisted service members to steal critical, classified defense information related to U.S. military activities in the Indo-Pacific, officials representing DOJ and the FBI said of the two cases, according to a DOJ press release. It was not clear if the two cases were connected, but both sailors received several thousand dollars for sharing descriptions of weapons, ships and movements considered linchpins of deterrence against Chinese aggression.

“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,” Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen said in the statement. “The Department of Justice will continue to use every tool in our arsenal to counter threats from China and to deter those who aid them in breaking our laws and threatening our national security.”

Jinchao Wei, also known as Patrick, shared materials about U.S. Navy ships with a Chinese intelligence officer while an active duty sailor on the U.S.S. Essex stationed at Naval Base San Diego, the indictment, unsealed Thursday, says. As a machinist’s mate, he had access to blueprint materials about the Essex’s weapons, propulsion and desalination system accessible only to someone with a security clearance.

The Essex is an amphibious assault ship, a class of warship the U.S. uses to maintain fast-response strike capabilities and that serves as a “cornerstone” of amphibious readiness and deterrence in the Pacific, according to the DOJ.

Wei funneled along photos, videos and documents about Navy ships, including the Essex, between March 2022 and the present, the indictment alleges. Those included technical manuals, descriptions of the Essex’s defensive capabilities, locations of various Navy ships and weapons U.S. Marines used during an exercise in the Pacific.

He received thousands of dollars selling secrets to the Chinese, according to the indictment. Authorities arrested Wei on Wednesday, DOJ said.

In a separate case, Petty Officer Wenheng Zhao, who was assigned to Naval Base Ventura County in Port Hueneme, accepted bribes from a Chinese intelligence officer posing as a maritime economic researcher in exchange for secret military information, the press release said.

From August 2021 and continuing through at least May 2023, Zhao recorded U.S. military information, including operational plans for a “large scale” drill in the Indo-Pacific region that included specific timings for naval movements and logistics support, the indictment alleged, according to the press release. He also photographed electrical diagrams and blueprints for a U.S. military radar system in Okinawa, Japan.

Zhao allegedly received $14,866 in reward, the press release said.

Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said he was aware of the DOJ announcement but declined to comment further at a press briefing Thursday afternoon.


Micaela Burrow