US Arrests Navy Sailors Over Alleged Schemes To Send Military Secrets To China | Spy News

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Two members of the United States Navy have been arrested on charges that they gave military secrets to China, affecting national security.

Speaking at a news conference Thursday, Assistant Attorney General for Homeland Security Matt Olsen said his department would be “relentless” in pursuing accountability.

“As a result of the crimes committed by these defendants, sensitive military information ended up in the hands of the People’s Republic of China,” he said.

Olsen said China “stands apart” in the threat it poses to US security: “China is unique in the capacity and scope of its malicious efforts to subvert our laws.”

The accused Navy service members have been identified as Jinchao Wei, also known by the first name Patrick, and 26-year-old Wenheng Zhao, who goes by Thomas.

The two sailors were involved in separate intelligence-gathering operations while working with the US Navy, according to the Justice Department.

An F-35B Lightning II aircraft from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211 launches from the deck aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Essex as part of the F-35B's first combat strike, against a Taliban target in Afghanistan, September 27, 2018.
A plane takes off from the USS Essex, where Jinchao Wei was a machinist [File: Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Matthew Freeman for the US Navy/Reuters]

For Wei, the alleged conspiracy began in 2022, when he was a machinist’s mate aboard the USS Essex, an amphibious assault ship.

In February of that year, he began communicating with a Chinese intelligence officer who was seeking information about the Essex and other ships in the US Navy, according to prosecutors.

They accuse Wei of sending dozens of technical manuals and blueprints to Chinese intelligence officials, showing weapons systems and other “critical technology” used aboard the ships.

Wei also took pictures and videos of military equipment, according to the Justice Department.

In one case, a Chinese intelligence official requested information about an upcoming naval warfare exercise involving US Marines. “In response to this request,” prosecutors wrote, “Wei sent several pictures of military equipment to the intelligence officer”.

Wei was eventually charged with conspiring to send national defense information to China.

Meanwhile, the case against Petty Officer Zhao hinges on bribes he says he took in exchange for sharing sensitive military information he obtained through a US security clearance.

In August 2021, the Department of Justice alleges that a Chinese intelligence officer contacted Zhao under the guise of working as a maritime economic researcher, seeking investment information.

Zhao is accused of taking pictures and recording videos on behalf of the intelligence officer. Among the information transferred were the plans for a major military exercise in the Indo-Pacific region and the plans for a base in Japan.

The indictment said he received about $14,866 for the information.

The cases against the two men come at a time of heightened tensions between the US and China, with both sides accusing the other of espionage.

At the end of January, for example, a political uproar erupted in the United States after a Chinese spy balloon was seen crossing North America, passing over sensitive military sites.

The Chinese government dismissed the flight as a civilian weather balloon, but US officials doubled down, saying in February it was “clearly for an intelligence investigation”.

The balloon was eventually shot down over the Atlantic Ocean on February 4, an action China’s foreign ministry called an “obvious overreaction”. The ministry has since accused the US of flying its own spy balloons over Chinese airspace, an accusation the US has denied.

But the tit-for-tat between the two countries – representing the two largest economies in the world – has only continued since then.

In April, the US government arrested two men for running a “secret police station” in New York City, to engage in a “transnational crackdown” on activists and dissidents. agree China has denied that there are any such hidden police stations.

And in June, US media reported that China was preparing a secret eavesdropping facility in Cuba. Both Cuba and China denounced that accusation as criticism.

But while US intelligence officials have called China the “prime and most persistent threat to US national security and global leadership”, President Joe Biden predicted in May that a “meltdown” would take place between both countries soon. Diplomats from both sides have been meeting regularly.

However, in Thursday’s announcement, Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen took a strong stance on the issue of espionage.

“Make no mistake, as a department, we will continue to use every legal tool in our arsenal to combat that threat and stop the PRC. [People’s Republic of China] and those who help him violate the rule of law and threaten our national security,” he said.

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