US indicts ex-soldier for offering defense secrets to China
A former US Army sergeant has been arrested upon his return to the country from Hong Kong and stands accused of trying to provide classified military information to China’s security services.
Joseph Daniel Schmidt, 29, was apprehended by federal agents at San Francisco airport on Friday, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) said in a statement. He was an active-duty soldier from 2015 to 2020, ending his service at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in the Seattle area, where he worked in the 109th Military Intelligence Battalion.
After leaving the military, Schmidt sent messages to Beijing’s consulate in Türkiye and to Chinese intelligence services, offering to give them US defense secrets, the DOJ said. He traveled to Hong Kong in March 2020 and allegedly continued trying to pass on classified information that he had retained from his former job.
Prosecutors said Schmidt offered to give the Chinese authorities a device that enables access to secure US military computer networks. He remained in China until flying from Hong Kong to San Francisco this week.
“Members of our military take a sworn oath to defend our country and the Constitution,” DOJ prosecutor Tessa Gorman said. “In that context, the alleged actions of this former military member are shocking – not only attempting to provide national defense information, but also information that would assist a foreign adversary to gain access to Department of Defense secure computer networks.”
The DOJ made no mention of Schmidt’s possible motive and didn’t say what, if any, compensation he requested from his Chinese contacts. His job in military intelligence had given him access to information marked “secret” and “top secret.”
Schmidt faces two felony charges for retaining national defense information and attempting to deliver state secrets to someone else. Both crimes are punishable by up to ten years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Schmidt’s arrest comes two months after the DOJ indicted two US Navy sailors in California for allegedly giving military secrets, including information on weapons systems and ship positions, to Chinese intelligence agents.