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Two U.S. Navy sailors, Jinchao Wei and Wenhen Zhao, of apparent Chinese descent, have been accused of secretly leaking sensitive military secrets to China. Presented before a U.S. federal court last week, both sailors have vehemently denied their involvement in espionage and theft of classified military information.
22-year-old Wei, stationed on the aircraft carrier “Essex”, was apprehended on August 3rd in San Diego after allegations arose of him providing classified details to a Chinese intelligence agent. Prosecutors claim Wei, since February 2022, regularly transmitted photos, videos, and technical guides about U.S. naval ships and armament systems.
Zhao, a 26-year-old electrician at a naval base in California, is accused of accepting bribes from a Chinese intelligence operative, delivering confidential data, including pictures and videos since August 2021. U.S. Justice Department representative, Matt Olsen, expressed concerns over China’s relentless pursuit of essential information at any cost.
Wei’s disclosures to his Chinese contact reportedly included photos and videos of docked ships, maintenance cycles, weaponry details, vulnerabilities of the “Essex”, and upcoming Navy drills. Furthermore, he supplied 55 technical manuals on naval systems. He allegedly received between $10,000 to $15,000 annually for his spying activities. Wei’s espionage reportedly spanned from February 2022 until February 2023.
Zhao’s purported theft traces back to August 2021 and lasted until at least May 2023. His deliverables to Chinese agents covered open military materials, Pacific exercise plans, Navy security documents, and restricted area photographs. He purportedly received about $15,000 in exchange.
Both sailors could face life imprisonment for their alleged espionage. The Pentagon has voiced significant concerns over the breach of crucial military data, demanding a comprehensive probe. Following these espionage allegations, stricter vetting measures for military personnel are also in the pipeline.