(PartiallyPolitics.com) – A sailor from the U.S., Wenheng Zhao, known as Thomas, has now confessed to taking money from a Chinese spy in return for sharing classified data.
Zhao, a 26-year-old Petty Officer, reversed his previous not-guilty plea, acknowledging his involvement in bribery and conspiracy alongside a foreign intelligence operative, as confirmed by the legal authorities in California’s Central District.
Having access to classified data up to the “secret” level due to his clearance, Zhao has admitted to obtaining a sum totaling around $14,866 through numerous transactions, at least 14 in number, from a representative of China. In return, from August 2021 to May 2023, he provided information about naval strategies and structures.
His leaks comprised specific data about a significant maritime drill in the Pacific region and intricate designs of a radar setup situated in Okinawa, Japan. Furthermore, he shared visual materials related to operational safety protocols at a Ventura County base and San Clemente Island, owned by the Navy.
Zhao disclosed employing encrypted communication channels for sharing these details, alongside eliminating traces of his activities and maintaining the confidentiality of his interaction with the Chinese representative.
After his detainment on August 3, Zhao had initially denied the accusations. However, his subsequent admission revealed a stark betrayal, according to U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada, who commended the investigative team for uncovering this “disgraceful scheme.”
A native of China, Zhao relocated to the U.S. in 2009, obtaining citizenship by 2012. He joined the Navy five years afterward, specializing as a construction electrician.
The court highlighted Zhao’s description of the financial gain as “easy money” and his negligence in reporting these covert interactions—fundamentals of his training—indicating a clear “indifference to directives and regulations,” regardless of whether he was aware of the spy’s identity.
With sentencing scheduled for January 8, 2024, Zhao could receive a maximum of two decades of incarceration.
In a related development, another U.S. Navy member, Jinchao “Patrick” Wei, faced arrest on August 1, accused of planning to transfer sensitive national security details to a Chinese spy and actually providing specifics about the USS Essex and other ships starting from March 2022.
During an August hearing for Wei, Assistant U.S. Attorney Fred Sheppard shared an unsettling revelation: Wei’s compliance was allegedly urged by his mother, who hoped it would eventually lead to a governmental role in China for him.
Born in China and not a U.S. citizen when the alleged infractions began, Wei’s duties were as a machinist’s mate on the Essex, positioned in San Diego.
The authorities have not confirmed whether Zhao and Wei were in cahoots with the same spy.
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