‘Unprecedented’: US sailors charged with selling military secrets to China

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Washington: Two US Navy sailors have been arrested on charges of providing sensitive US military information to China in exchange for money in what the Justice Department called a relentless effort by China to get US secrets.

Jinchao Wei was the first person ever charged with espionage in the San Diego district, US Justice Department officials said at a press conference. Petty Officer Wenheng Zhao, 26, of Monterey Park, California, was charged with conspiracy and receipt of a bribe by a public official in Los Angeles.

The FBI has begun investigating more cases of state-directed coercion in the US.Credit: Bloomberg

Both men are Chinese-born naturalised US citizens. It wasn’t immediately clear whether they have retained lawyers.

Wei sent documents to China and received thousands of dollars, providing the country information on potential vulnerabilities of ships, photos of military hardware and scores of technical manuals, placing the safety of US sailors in jeopardy, prosecutors said.

“The charges demonstrate the PRC’s determination to obtain information that is critical to our national defence by any means so it can be used to their advantage,” Matthew Olsen, head of the Justice Department’s national security division, told reporters on Thursday during a press conference in San Diego.

Liu Pengyu, aspokesperson for the Chinese embassy in Washington, said he wasn’t aware of the details of the case, but cautioned about jumping to conclusions.

“In recent years, the US government and media have frequently hyped up cases of ‘espionage’ related to China, many of which later proved to be unfounded,” Liu said in a statement. “China firmly opposes the US side’s groundless slander and smear of China.”

Michael Casey, the Biden administration’s pick to lead counterintelligence efforts, said the US faces “unprecedented” threats from China, Russia and other foreign actors during a Senate confirmation hearing in July.

“China, among all such nations, stands apart in terms of the threat that its government poses to the United States,” Olsen said.

Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray said last year that the FBI opens a new counterintelligence case against China every 12 hours on average. China’s foreign ministry routinely denies US allegations of state-sponsored espionage.


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