Tue, 05 Dec 2023

California [US], August 4 (ANI): Two Navy sailors in Southern California were arrested and accused of providing military secrets and sensitive information to Chinese intelligence officers, the New York Times reported.

Jinchao Wei, known as Patrick Wei, 22, was charged with spying for the Chinese under the Espionage Act. Wei serves aboard the Essex, an assault ship moored at Naval Base San Diego, which is the home of the Pacific Fleet. The investigators said that he misused the clearance to access the sensitive national security information.

The second sailor, Petty Officer Wenheng Zhao, 26, also known as Thomas, was charged with taking bribes in exchange for providing sensitive US military information to a Chinese intelligence officer posing as an economic researcher, The New York Times reported.

Zhao worked at the Naval Base Ventura County in Port Hueneme, which is home to several aircraft squadrons and the service's naval construction battalions in the Pacific.

The charges appear to reflect the Chinese government's deep interest in the Navy's Pacific Fleet and other aspects of the American military's operations in that region, part of a broader effort by China to steal American corporate and national security secrets.

Grossman said the section of the Espionage Act under which Wei was charged has been used just a handful of times in the past few years, underscoring the seriousness of the crime. The betrayal was particularly acute in San Diego, he added.

"San Diego indeed has a storied history with the United States Navy," he said.

"That's why this conduct is personal for San Diego, and we will not stand for it," he added.

The prosecutors said that Wei began working for the Chinese in early 2022. In serving as a machinist's mate for the Navy, he is an engineer trained to operate and maintain a range of equipment, from small pumps to refrigerators to large machinery for propelling a ship through the ocean.

He provided his handler with the defence and weapons abilities of US warships as well as their vulnerabilities, communicating via encrypted platforms. In one instance in June last year, the Chinese intelligence officer asked Wei for information about"the number and training of US Marines during an upcoming international maritime warfare exercise." In another instance, Wei received USD 5,000 for 30 technical and mechanical ship manuals, the court filing said. Some of the information that Wei provided to the Chinese was deemed "critical technology" by the US Navy.

In a news release, the Justice Department said that warships like the Essex serve as the"cornerstone of the US Navy's amphibious readiness and expeditionary strike capabilities."Wei was evidently seeking US citizenship while working clandestinely with the Chinese, according to the indictment, with his handler congratulating Wei when he received it.

In the second indictment, Zhao, who is from Monterey Park, worked at an unnamed Chinese intelligence officer's direction from August 2021 through at least May this year.

Among the sensitive details he sent the officer were electrical diagrams and blueprints for a radar system stationed on a US military base in Okinawa, Japan, as well as operational plans for a large-scale US military exercise in the Indo-Pacific region.

The prosecutors said that those plans detailed the specific location and timing of naval force movements, amphibious landings, maritime operations and logistics support.

Zhao was not charged under the Espionage Act, but a Justice Department news release says he faces 20 years in prison if convicted.

Both men earned thousands of dollars secretly working for the Chinese, prosecutors say. (ANI)

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