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‘Cash Over Country’ - Two U.S. Navy Officers Accused of Selling Military Secrets to China

By Belal Awad · August 4, 2023

In brief…

  • Two US Navy sailors were arrested for espionage, accused of selling defense secrets to China.
  • Jinchao Wei and Wenheng Zhao allegedly betrayed commitments, providing classified info on naval operations to Beijing.
  • Wei sent details on ship capabilities and movements; Zhao sold radar diagrams and operational data.
  • The suspects - allegedly part of China's campaign targeting US military officials - face potential sentences of 20 years to life.
Two U.S. Navy officers have been arrested on charges of providing the Chinese government with classified defense information.  Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class David Mercil, U.S. Navy/Wikimedia

Two US Navy sailors have been arrested on charges of espionage, accused of selling sensitive military secrets to China. The arrests mark the latest development in the ongoing battle against international espionage targeting the United States.

Jinchao Wei, 22, and Wenheng Zhao, 26, stand accused of betraying their commitments to protect the United States, allegedly handing over classified information about naval operations to Chinese intelligence officers. The two cases, while similar, are being treated as separate incidents by authorities.

“When a soldier or sailor chooses cash over country and hands over national defense information in an ultimate act of betrayal, we have to be ready to act,” said Randy Grossman, US Attorney for the Southern District of California, told ABC News.

Wei, a sailor on the USS Essex, faces the most serious charge of espionage. Prosecutors allege he sent a Chinese handler details about the defense and weapons capabilities of Navy ships, along with information on ship movements. Wei reportedly received at least $5,000 in exchange for technical manuals, blueprints, photos, and videos of the Essex.

Zhao, stationed at a naval base in Ventura County, is charged with conspiracy and taking bribes. Over nearly two years, he allegedly sold photographs of diagrams of a US military radar system in Japan, as well as precise operational details about an upcoming naval exercise. Zhao’s alleged actions earned him nearly $15,000.

“This is part of a brazen campaign by the People’s Republic of China to target US military officials,” Martin Estrada, US Attorney for the Central District of California, told ABC News.

The suspects have not yet entered pleas and are due back in court next week. If convicted, they could face sentences ranging from 20 years to life in prison.