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A US Navy petty officer pleaded guilty to selling national security secrets to a Chinese intelligence officer, the Justice Department said.

Wenheng Zhao, 26, pleaded guilty in a federal court in California to charges of conspiring with a foreign intelligence officer and accepting a bribe Tuesday. 

He confessed to passing information about a large-scale maritime training exercise in the Pacific and electrical diagrams and blueprints for a Japan radar system in exchange for nearly $15,000 from a Chinese spy.

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

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

Petty Officer Wenheng Zhao, 26, reportedly passed over secrets for nearly two years before his arrest earlier this month

He confessed to passing information about a large-scale maritime training exercise in the Pacific and electrical diagrams and blueprints for a Japan radar system in exchange for nearly $15,000 from a Chinese spy

The pair reportedly passed dozens of photos and technical manuals regarding US Navy operational security, exercises, and infrastructure to Chinese intelligence. 

‘Officer Zhao betrayed his country and the men and women of the U.S. Navy by accepting bribes from a foreign adversary,’ said United States Attorney Martin Estrada Tuesday

‘Mr. Zhao’s admission makes it clear that he abandoned the oath he swore to uphold by providing sensitive information to a U.S. adversary in exchange for cash,’ said Donald Alway, the Assistant Director of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office. 

‘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.’

Zhao, a Petty Officer from Monterey Park, California, was stationed at Naval Base Ventura County north of Los Angeles.

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.

Wei was allegedly told that passing secrets to Beijing about American military strategy and technology would help him get a job with the Chinese Communist Party when he left the Navy.

Assistant US Attorney Fred Sheppard told a bond hearing that Wei’s mother encouraged him to betray the US when he went home to Wisconsin for Christmas. 

Wei searched online for flights to China after his handler in Beijing promised to fly him and his mother over to meet them in person, Sheppard told the court in San Diego.

Jinchao Wei was serving on the USS Essex while reportedly selling its secrets to Chinese intelligence 

The machinist mate onboard the USS Essex (pictured here) when he allegedly sold information about the ship to a Chinese official

He also claimed the intelligence officer told Wei to buy a computer and phone to pass the information, promising that if Wei provided a receipt, the Chinese government would reimburse him for the expenses.

‘We have entrusted members of our military with tremendous responsibility and great faith,’ US Attorney Randy Grossman for the Southern District of California added at a news conference.

‘Our nation’s safety and security are in their hands.

‘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.’

Assistant US Attorney Fred Sheppard said Wei was encouraged to betray the US while serving on the USS Essex

In February 2022, authorities allege, Wei, a machinist mate, began communicating with a Chinese intelligence officer, to whom he sent photos and videos of the Essex; disclosed the location of various U.S. Navy ships; and described the defensive weapons of the Essex in exchange for thousands of dollars.

Prosecutors said the two tried to hide their communications by deleting records and using encrypted methods of communication.

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.

Source: | This article originally belongs to Dailymail.co.uk

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