2 US Navy Sailors Arrested for Selling Intel to China

Petty Officer 2nd Class Diana Quinlan/U.S. Navy via AP

China appears to be stepping up its intel-gathering efforts on the United States.

On August 3rd, two U.S. Navy sailors were arrested in unrelated incidents. Both are charged with releasing sensitive information to agents of the Chinese government, which in effect means the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

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Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen said in a press conference:

In the first case out of the central district, the defendant, a petty officer who served as a construction engineer, is charged with conspiring with a PRC intelligence officer to collect and transmit sensitive military information about naval operations.

The defendant allegedly accepted bribes and gave the PRC intelligence officer photographs and videos of military exercise plans, operational orders and electrical systems..

Olsen also spoke about the other case. He said:

In the second case, out of the southern district, the defendant faces charges for espionage and for violating our export control laws, for collecting and transmitting sensitive national defense information at the direction of a PRC intelligence officer.

As tasked by the intelligence officer, the defendant allegedly transmitted or attempted to transmit more than 50 manuals and other documents containing technical and mechanical data about naval amphibious assault ships. Several of these materials were allegedly marked with export control warnings and contained details about the power structure, weapons systems and damage control aboard those ships.

This is serious business.

There is more information available on the second case. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California had this to say:

Petty Officer Wenheng Zhao, 26, also known as Thomas Zhao, of Monterey Park, was arrested Wednesday by special agents with the FBI and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS). Zhao, who is charged in the indictment with conspiracy and receipt of a bribe by a public official, is scheduled to be arraigned this afternoon in United States District Court in downtown Los Angeles.

The indictment alleges that Zhao, who worked at Naval Base Ventura County in Port Hueneme and held a U.S. security clearance, received bribes from a Chinese intelligence officer in exchange for violating his official duties as a U.S. sailor by, among other actions, disclosing non-public, sensitive U.S. military information.

Beginning in August 2021 and continuing through at least May 2023, at the Chinese intelligence officer’s direction, Zhao violated his official duties to protect sensitive military information by surreptitiously recording, and then transmitting to the intelligence officer, U.S. military information, photographs and videos, according to the indictment.

In exchange for bribes, Zhao allegedly sent the Chinese intelligence 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.

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Note carefully that last paragraph; among the other information Zhao gave the CCP “…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 other words, Petty Officer Wenheng Zhao (I won’t speculate on the possible significance of the Petty Officer’s apparent ethnicity) told the Chinese Communist Party not only when and where this major exercise was to happen so that Chinese assets could observe it in detail; he also gave them detailed information of the Navy’s capabilities and practices. In other words, he told them precisely how the U.S. Navy is training to fight their next war.

There’s always a next war. China is clearly looking ahead to it. As my colleague Buzz Patterson wrote, it’s not at all clear that the United States is.

The list of Chinese actions that directly threaten the United States seems to grow by the day, as we see stories unfold about not only espionage but also such things as China trying to shore up their economy, Chinese covert biological laboratories with unknown (but we can sure take a good guess) purpose and mysteriously disappearing Chinese officials with foreign-affairs portfolios.

These are the marks of a country that is planning something, in hopes of becoming a military rival to our nation.

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