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4 Aug, 2023 01:08

US sailors accused of spying for China

Federal prosecutors announced two separate espionage cases this week
US sailors accused of spying for China

Two US Navy sailors in California have been indicted for allegedly sharing sensitive military secrets, including information on weapon systems and ship positions, with Chinese intelligence agents. The arrests come weeks after the CIA admitted to rebuilding its own spy network in China.

Federal prosecutors announced the two cases, which were filed separately, on Thursday. Chinese-born Jinchao “Patrick” Wei, who is a naturalized US citizen, was arrested on Wednesday as he arrived for work in his job as a machinist’s mate at Naval Base San Diego. The other suspect, petty officer Wenheng “Thomas” Zhao, worked at Naval Base Ventura County, north of Los Angeles, prior to his arrest.

Prosecutors didn’t say whether the two cases were related or whether they involved the same suspected Chinese “intelligence officer.”

Wei, 22, was charged with conspiracy to send national defense information to an agent of the People’s Republic of China. He allegedly sent photographs and videos of the USS Essex, described various weapons systems, and disclosed the locations of various Navy ships. He is also accused of providing the Chinese agent with dozens of technical and mechanical manuals, as well as photos of military equipment related to an upcoming international military exercise. 

Zhao, 26, was charged with receiving bribes for transmitting US military secrets. He allegedly turned over sensitive information, including photos of electrical diagrams and blueprints for a radar system at a US base in Japan, to a Chinese agent who was posing as a maritime researcher. He also sent the agent secrets on Naval force movements and locations in an upcoming exercise in the Indo-Pacific region, prosecutors said. He faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, if convicted.

The arrests come amid rising tensions between Washington and Beijing. Last month, CIA Director William Burns told a security conference in Colorado that his agency was currently running agents in China.

“We’ve made progress and we’re working very hard to make sure we have a very strong human intelligence capability to complement what we can acquire through other methods,” Burns told attendees.

In response, Beijijng vowed to “take all necessary measures to safeguard national security” against American spy networks. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning also accused Washington of “spreading disinformation on so-called ‘Chinese spying and cyber attacks’” in order to cover up for their own spying activities.