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San Diego Sailor Charged With Espionage Ordered Held in Custody

SAN DIEGO (CNS) - A San Diego sailor accused of selling military secrets to a Chinese intelligence officer will remain in custody, a judge ruled today.

Jinchao Wei, 22, also known as Patrick Wei, is accused of accepting bribes 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 Chinese officer with photographs of military hardware and details about an upcoming maritime warfare exercise involving U.S. Marines.

Wei, who was assigned as a machinist's mate on the USS Essex, was arrested last 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.

Wei, who was ordered detained last week, appeared in court Tuesday afternoon for a hearing regarding his custodial status. Defense attorney Jason Conforti said his client would stipulate to remaining in custody for now until he received more evidence from the prosecution.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Fred Sheppard told U.S. Magistrate Judge Michelle Pettit that prosecutors would move to keep Wei detained on grounds of being a flight risk and a danger to the community.

Sheppard argued the information Wei allegedly provided the Chinese officer made him a danger to the community at large and ``certainly a danger to the thousands of sailors who are on those ships and transported by those ships.''

The prosecutor said the Chinese officer approached Wei before he was assigned to the Essex and sought information and photographs of ship movements out of San Diego ports.

After 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,'' according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

The indictment alleges that beginning last year, Wei transmitted ``documents, sketches, plans, notes, and other information'' to the handler, who allegedly 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.

On Tuesday, Sheppard said some of that information included details on living conditions aboard the Essex, manuals for its weapons systems, and information regarding its onboard communications.

Conforti told the judge Wei would not pose a danger as he no longer has a position with the Navy and now has no access to the information prosecutors allege he provided.

Regarding flight, Sheppard said Wei's only relative in the United States is his mother, who the prosecutor said was not only aware of Wei's alleged disclosure of military secrets, but actively supported it.

Sheppard said Wei's Chinese contact has also extended offers for Wei to travel to China and Wei allegedly had been searching for flights shortly before his arrest.

Wei's arrest coincided with the arrest last week of another U.S. Navy sailor based out of Naval Base Ventura County in Port Hueneme.

That sailor, Petty Officer Wenheng Zhao, 26, was also ordered held on Tuesday and faces similar accusations of sending sensitive military information to a Chinese intelligence officer, including operational plans for a large-scale U.S. military exercise in the Indo-Pacific Region.

Both men allegedly received thousands of dollars for the information they're accused of passing along, but officials declined to comment on whether

both sailors were communicating with the same intelligence officer.

Copyright 2023, City News Service, Inc.

CNS-08-08-2023 16:03

 

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