Tuesday April 16, 2024

US arrests Navy sailors for spilling national secrets to China

The US Navy sailors are accused of sharing sensitive information with Chinese intelligence officials in exchange for financial rewards

By Web Desk
August 04, 2023
The Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) on Aug. 1, 2018.Cpl. A. J. Van Fredenberg / US Marine Corps
The Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) on Aug. 1, 2018.Cpl. A. J. Van Fredenberg / US Marine Corps

Tensions between the United States and China have reached a boiling point as two US Navy sailors were arrested on charges of espionage, sparking fresh concerns over national security breaches.  

The sailors, identified as Petty Officer Wenheng Zhao and Jinchao Wei, are accused of sharing sensitive information with Chinese officials in exchange for financial rewards.

In a shocking revelation, federal prosecutors have alleged that Jinchao Wei, a 22-year-old sailor assigned to the San Diego-based USS Essex, made contact with a Chinese government intelligence officer in February 2022. At the request of the officer, Wei provided photographs and videos of the ship he served on, including technical and mechanical manuals, as well as details about the number and training of Marines during an upcoming exercise. These actions prompted the Justice Department to charge Wei under the rarely-used Espionage Act, which criminalises the gathering or delivery of information to aid a foreign government.

Meanwhile, Petty Officer Wenheng Zhao faces conspiracy and bribetaking charges, with allegations of receiving nearly $15,000 in exchange for providing sensitive US military photos and videos to a Chinese intelligence officer. 

Zhao is also accused of sending his Chinese handler plans for US military exercises in the Indo-Pacific region, as well as confidential information related to a radar system on a US military base in Okinawa, Japan, and security details for US naval facilities in Ventura County and San Clemente Island near Los Angeles.

The gravity of these allegations has sent shockwaves through the US government, with Assistant Attorney General Matt Olsen stating that the sailors' actions resulted in "sensitive military info ending up in the hands of the People's Republic of China." 

FBI Special Agent Stacey Moy further condemned China's espionage campaign, stressing that there is no greater multigenerational threat to the United States than China's strategic ambition to become the world's sole superpower.

The arrest of these US Navy personnel has further strained an already tense relationship between the two global powers. With longstanding disputes over national security and trade issues, the US has repeatedly accused China of espionage and cyberattacks, a charge that Beijing has consistently denied. The recent developments have heightened concerns about the extent of China's espionage activities and its potential impact on US security.