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US sailor pleads guilty to spying for China

LOS ANGELES: A US Navy petty officer pleaded guilty on Tuesday (Oct 10) to providing sensitive military information to a Chinese intelligence officer, the Justice Department said.

Wenheng Zhao, 26, and another US sailor, Jinchao Wei, were arrested in August on suspicion of spying for China.

Zhao pleaded guilty in a federal court in California to charges of conspiring with a foreign intelligence officer and accepting a bribe, the Justice Department said in a statement.

He faces up to five years in prison for conspiracy and a maximum of 15 years for bribery. Sentencing was set for Jan 8.

According to US officials, Zhao, who was stationed at a naval base north of Los Angeles, received nearly US$15,000 from the Chinese intelligence officer between August 2021 and May 2023.

In exchange, he handed over sensitive information regarding US Navy operational security, exercises and critical infrastructure.

Zhao specifically provided information about a large-scale maritime training exercise in the Pacific and electrical diagrams and blueprints for a radar system located in Okinawa, Japan.

“The intelligence services of the People’s Republic of China actively target (security) clearance holders across the military, seeking to entice them with money to provide sensitive government information,” Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen said.

“When contacted by his co-conspirator, rather than reporting it to the Navy, the defendant chose greed over protecting the national security of the United States.”

Wei, who served on the amphibious assault ship the USS Essex, is accused of handing over to China dozens of documents, photos and videos detailing the operation of ships and their systems.

Last week, a former US Army sergeant was arrested for seeking to provide classified information to China.

Joseph Schmidt, 29, who served in an army intelligence unit from 2015 until 2020, is charged with retaining national defense information and attempting to deliver it to China.

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