Two Navy sailors have been indicted for transmitting “sensitive” U.S. military data to the People’s Republic of China (PRC), the Justice Department (DOJ) announced on Thursday.
According to a DOJ press release, Navy sailor Jinchao Wei was arrested on Wednesday on “espionage charges” and is being indicted for conspiracy “to send national defense information to an intelligence officer” working for the Chinese government. Included in the unsealed indictment are allegations that Wei — who served as a sailor on the USS Essex stationed at Naval Base San Diego — began communicating with a PRC official in February 2022.
The official, according to the DOJ, requested Wei “provide information about the U.S.S. Essex and other Navy ships,” including “photos, videos and documents concerning U.S. Navy ships and their systems.” The agency says that Wei possessed a security clearance and had access to data on the Essex’s weapons and propulsion systems while serving on the ship.
“At the request of the intelligence officer, between March 2022 and the present, Wei sent photographs and videos of the Essex, disclosed the locations of various Navy ships and described defensive weapons of the Essex,” the DOJ press release reads. “In exchange for this information, the intelligence officer paid Wei thousands of dollars over the course of the conspiracy.”
According to the indictment, in the summer of 2022, Wei allegedly sent the PRC dozens of manuals detailing the Essex and other ships’ operations, structures, and systems. The Chinese government official continued to request such information into 2023 and further instructed Wei to hide their relationship and “destroy any evidence regarding the nature of their relationship and their activities.”
Meanwhile, Petty Officer Wenheng Zhao was separately indicted for “receiving bribes” in exchange for similar information. In Zhao’s case, however, the PRC intel officer requesting the data claimed he was a “maritime economic researcher.”
From August 2021 to May 2023, Zhao allegedly sent the officer “non-public and controlled operational plans for a large-scale U.S. military exercise in the Indo-Pacific Region, which detailed the specific location and timing of Naval force movements, amphibious landings, maritime operations and logistics support” in exchange for bribes. Zhao — who was stationed at Naval Base Ventura County — received nearly $15,000 for his purported actions, according to the indictment.
If convicted of his alleged crimes, Zhao could face up to 20 years in federal prison.