SAN DIEGO - A U.S. Navy sailor based out of San Diego pleaded not guilty today to espionage-related charges alleging he sent sensitive military information to China.
Jinchao Wei, 22, also known as Patrick Wei, is accused of accepting thousands of dollars from a Chinese intelligence officer in exchange for information concerning ``the defense and weapon capabilities of U.S. Navy ships, potential vulnerabilities of these ships, and information related to ship movement,'' according to a grand jury indictment.
Prosecutors allege he also provided the officer with photographs of military hardware and details about an upcoming maritime warfare exercise involving U.S. Marines.
Wei is one of two Southern California sailors arrested for allegedly sending sensitive information to China. Petty Officer Wenheng Zhao, 26, also known as Thomas Zhao, was arrested Wednesday and pleaded not guilty Thursday afternoon in downtown Los Angeles to charges of conspiracy and receipt of a bribe by a public official. Zhao was working at Naval Base Ventura County in Port Hueneme, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
Wei, who was assigned as a machinist's mate on the USS Essex, was arrested Wednesday at Naval Base San Diego as he was arriving for work.
U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman said Wei's prosecution represents the first time an espionage-related charge has been filed against someone in the Southern District of California.
Grossman said that per the indictment, Wei was approached by a Chinese intelligence officer while his application to become a U.S. citizen was pending.
``Wei admitted to his handler that he knew this activity would be viewed as spying and could affect his pending citizenship application,'' Grossman said. ``Whether it was greed or for some other reason, Wei allegedly chose to turn his back on his newly adopted country and enter a conspiracy with his Chinese handler.''
The indictment alleges that beginning last year, Wei transmitted ``documents, sketches, plans, notes, and other information'' to the handler, who instructed Wei to destroy any evidence substantiating their relationship.
Some of the information he allegedly sent included technical data for the USS Essex and other amphibious assault ships.
In court Thursday afternoon, Wei pleaded not guilty to the charges. In asking a judge to deny him bond, prosecutors alleged Wei passed information to the Chinese as recently as two days ago.
When Wei was first approached by the Chinese intelligence officer, he allegedly told a fellow sailor he was being recruited by an intelligence agency for ``quite obviously (expletive) espionage.''
In the Los Angeles case, Zhao allegedly sent operational plans for a large-scale U.S. military exercise in the Indo-Pacific Region to a Chinese information officer. He also allegedly photographed electrical diagrams and blueprints for a radar system stationed on a U.S. military base in Okinawa, Japan, and obtained and transmitted details about the Navy's operational security at the Naval Base in Ventura County and on San Clemente Island, including photographs and videos.
Zhao was also paid thousands of dollars for the information, prosecutors allege.
Officials declined to comment on whether both sailors were communicating with the same intelligence officer.
In a statement, Assistant U.S. Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen said the two Southern California sailors ``stand accused of violating the commitments they made to protect the United States and betraying the public trust, to the benefit of the PRC government.''
FBI Assistant Director Suzanne Turner added, ``These arrests are a reminder of the relentless, aggressive efforts of the People's Republic of China to undermine our democracy and threaten those who defend it. The PRC compromised enlisted personnel to secure sensitive military information that could seriously jeopardize U.S. national security.''
Copyright 2023, City News Service, Inc.
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