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US Navy Sailor Sentenced to 27 Months for Siphoning American Military Info to the CCP

Published: January 9, 2024
A seal reading "Department of Justice Federal Bureau of Investigation" is displayed on the J. Edgar Hoover FBI building in Washington, DC, on Aug. 9, 2022. (Image: STEFANI REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images)

On Jan. 8, a U.S. Navy sailor, Petty Officer Wenheng “Thomas” Zhao, 26, was sentenced to 27 months in jail for his role in siphoning photos of unclassified private U.S. military information to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and accepting nearly $15,000 in bribes in return.

Zhao served at the Ventura Naval Base in California and admitted in October, 2023 to conspiracy and receiving bribes. 

When charged, he faced upwards of 20 years in prison, however received just 27 months and a fine of $5,500, according to a statement from the U.S. justice department.

The information Zhao sent to his Chinese handlers included detailed plans of U.S. military exercises in the Indo-Pacific region, as well as operational orders and electrical diagrams, among other things. He also admitted to sending blueprints for a radar system situated on a U.S. military base in Okinawa, Japan. 

In a statement, Larissa Knapp, executive assistant director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s National Security Breach said, ”Zhao chose to betray the oath he took to our country and put others at risk, “ adding that, “Today’s sentencing demonstrates, yet again, the inability of China’s intelligence services to prevent the FBI and our vital partners from apprehending and prosecuting the spies China recruits.” 

On Jan. 9, Mao Ning, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson claimed, at a regular news conference, to be unaware of the specifics of Zhao’s case and instead took the opportunity to lash out at the U.S., stating, “I’m not aware of the specifics, but I would note that high-level U.S. intelligence officials said they made progress in rebuilding their spy network in China,” adding that, “America on the one hand repeatedly disseminates false information about so-called Chinese spies, and yet on the other hand openly declares it wants to launch large-scale espionage activities against China. This is a double standard.”


Two originally arrested 

Zhao was not the only Chinese informant apprehended. When he was initially arrested in early August last year, Jinchao Wei, 22, was arrested with him under the U.S. Espionage Act. 

According to reporting by the Dailymail, Wei was serving aboard the USS Essex based in San Diego when he was arrested, and had decided to spy for China after being encouraged to by his mother. Prosecutors claimed that his mother urged him to do so in order to secure a “proper job” within the CCP regime after serving in the U.S. military.  

Similar to  Zhao, Wei is said to have received upwards of $15,000 for passing on photos as well as technical manuals to China for more than a year. 

Fred Sheppard, Assistant U.S. Attorney, said Wei and his mother decided to betray the U.S. during a Christmas break in Wisconsin, the Dailymail reported. 

Sheppard said that after the plan was hatched, Wei searched online for flights to China to meet with his handler, in person, in Beijing.

Wei was reportedly told to purchase a computer and phone to facilitate the data transfer to communist authorities and that he would be reimbursed for the expense by the Chinese government. 

According to prosecutors, Wei’s espionage activity occurred between August 2021 and May 2023 and he began communicating with a Chinese intelligence officer in February 2022. He reportedly tried to hide his contact with the intelligence officer by deleting records and using encrypted methods to communicate.  

U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman, who serves the Southern District of California, said at a news conference at the time, “When a soldier or sailor chooses cash over country, and hands over national defense information in an ultimate act of betrayal, the United States will aggressively investigate and prosecute.”

In one instance, where Wei received $5,000 in compensation, he allegedly sent the intelligence officer an estimated 30 technical and mechanical manuals. The intelligence officer reportedly said that at least ten of these documents were useful to the communist regime.