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Two US Navy sailors arrested on national security charges

The U.S. on Thursday announced the arrest of two Navy sailors in California who are accused of handing over sensitive and classified military secrets to Chinese intelligence agents.

Before their arrest this week, both sailors successfully transmitted secrets to Chinese intelligence in exchange for financial bribes, according to the Justice Department (DOJ).

Suzanne Turner, assistant director at the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division, said the 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,” Turner said in a statement.

The DOJ said U.S. Navy Petty Officer Wenheng Zhao, who worked at Naval Base Ventura County, Calif., received bribes from a Chinese intelligence officer to transmit national security secrets from August 2021 to May 2023.

The Chinese officer was posing as a maritime economic researcher, according to the Justice Department, and received photographs, videos and information from Zhao, who received more than $14,000 in exchange.

Some of the information he allegedly traded include details on a U.S. military exercise in the Indo-Pacific: the location and timing of Navy movements along with ship landings and maritime operations.

Zhao also allegedly photographed diagrams and blueprints of a radar system at a U.S. military base in Okinawa, Japan.

Zhao was indicted on charges of receiving bribes in exchange for transmitting sensitive U.S. military information and faces up to 20 years in prison.

U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada said that “Zhao chose to corruptly sell out his colleagues and his country.”

“By sending this sensitive military information to an intelligence officer employed by a hostile foreign state, the defendant betrayed his sacred oath to protect our country and uphold the Constitution,” Estrada said in a statement.

Additionally, DOJ officials said Jinchao Wei, a U.S. Navy sailor at Naval Base San Diego in California, was arrested Wednesday.

Wei was indicted on charges of conspiracy to give national defense information to an intelligence officer working for the People’s Republic of China in exchange for thousands of dollars.

Wei served as a machinist on a small aircraft carrier, the USS Essex, where he allegedly had access to classified information on the ship’s weapons, propulsion and desalination systems, according to the Justice Department.

In February 2022, Wei allegedly began communicating with a Chinese agent and in March 2022 began sending photographs and videos of the Essex to the intelligence officer.

Wei also allegedly handed over details from dozens of technical manuals about the Essex and similar ships through 2023 along with information about U.S. maritime drills.

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