Two California Sailors Arrested on Espionage Charges

August 3, 2023 2:24 PM
U.S. Navy Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD-2), front, and Royal Australian Navy Canberra-class landing helicopter dock HMAS Canberra (L02) transit the Pacific Ocean during Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2022, July 29, during an amphibious raid. U.S. Navy Photo

Two sailors stationed in California have been arrested over national security concerns, Department of Justice officials said Thursday.

One of the sailors is assigned to amphibious warship USS Essex (LHD-2) ship, while the other serves at a construction battalion near Los Angeles, according to the sailors’ bios obtained by USNI News.

Machinist’s Mate 3rd Class Jinchao Wei, of Wisconsin, has been assigned to Essex since March 4, 2022 and joined the Navy on July 28, 2021, according to the bio. Wei was indicted on a charge for conspiracy to provide national defense information to a Chinese intelligence officer, according to a news release from the Department of Justice.

The DOJ alleges that Wei communicated with the Chinese intelligence officer, providing him with manuals and photos of amphibious ships, such as Essex and other big deck amphibious warships. Wei was paid for the information.

According to the indictment, filed July 19, the Chinese intelligence officer reached out to Wei and started a handler/asset relationship. Around February 2022, Wei told another sailor that he had been asked to spy for the Chinese.

Starting in February, Wei started to provide information that the intelligence officer requested. This included the defensive weapons aboard Essex, and the sea taskings and locations of LHDs, according to the indictment.

The Chinese intelligence officer asked for specific items, including information on the Navy and Marine F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter “lightning carrier” concept, as well as other amphibious combat concepts. The majority of the requests focused on amphibs, with the intelligence officer also asking for the number of Marines that would be involved in international maritime exercises.

Over the course of several months, Wei also sent numerous technical and mechanical manuals that contained information about the systems on naval ships. Wei provided information on the repairs and mechanical problems that affected ship deployment as requested, according to the indictment.

Construction Electrician 2nd Class Wenheng Zhao, of California, was charged with allegedly taking a bribe from a Chinese official, according to the Department of Justice. He is currently assigned to the Naval Construction Group 1 in Port Hueneme, Calif., according to his Navy releasable biography. He enlisted in the Navy on April 4, 2017, and is currently a construction electrician 2nd class.

The DOJ alleges that Zhao received bribes from a Chinese intelligence officer to violate his duties as a sailor. Zhao allegedly sent the Chinese intelligence officer military information, photographs and videos. The Chinese intelligence officer told Zhao that they were a maritime economic researcher, according to the DOJ release.

Zhao allegedly sent the intelligence officer controlled operational plans for a large scale exercise in the Indo-Pacific region, which included naval movements that were marked CUI (controlled unclassified information) or FOUO (for official use only). 

Zhao also allegedly sent photographs of computer screens with operational orders for military exercises. He also sent photographs of diagrams and blueprints of the electrical system in the Ground/Air Task Oriented Radar System. The documents were marked unclassified/FOUO.

The Chinese intelligence officer specifically asked for documents marked CUI or higher, according to the indictment. 

Heather Mongilio

Heather Mongilio

Heather Mongilio is a reporter with USNI News. She has a master’s degree in science journalism and has covered local courts, crime, health, military affairs and the Naval Academy.
Follow @hmongilio

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