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US Navy Sailor Sentenced in China Spying Case

One of two California-based sailors arrested last summer, accused of spying for China, has been sentenced to over two years in prison.

Wenheng Zhao, also known as Thomas Zhao, had pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy and one count of receiving a bribe during his official duties. The Monterey Park resident was handed a 27-month term as well as a $5,500 fine, far below the maximum 20-year sentence of the combined charges.

The conviction comes at a time of heightened sensitivity in Washington and Beijing over the other’s espionage activities, with geopolitical tensions as a backdrop. China’s State Security Ministry announced Monday it had uncovered a case involving a U.K. national trained by British intelligence agency MI6.

Zhao, who was based at Naval Base Ventura County in Port Hueneme, about 55 miles north of Los Angeles, had access to classified information up to the “secret” level. He used “sophisticated encrypted communication methods” to share the information while keeping hidden his correspondence with his Chinese intelligence contact, the Justice Department said in a press release.

“Mr. Zhao was a dedicated serviceman with an exemplary service record before this digression. He was the target of a sophisticated foreign intelligence operation, and he made the mistake of sharing certain unclassified information with an undercover operative who hid his identity and misled Mr. Zhao,” his defense attorney Tarek Shawky told Newsweek on Wednesday.

Shawky said his client “fully appreciates the severity of his actions” and pointed out his client pleaded guilty at an early stage in the case and accepts responsibility for the offense.

His sentence was consistent with the plea deal Shawky had negotiated with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and “reflects all of the relevant facts and circumstances surrounding the case and my client,” Shawky said.

The FBI Lost Angeles office’s counterintelligence and cyber unit found he had received bribes totaling at least $14,866, delivered over at least 14 payments from August 2021 to at least May of last year from an individual he knew was in China, in exchange for transmitting sensitive information.

The information included details about large Navy training exercises in the Pacific theater, operational security, and blueprints for a radar system. He also transmitted photos and footage involving operational security at a base in Ventura County and on the Navy-owned San Clemente Island.

“Mr. Zhao betrayed his solemn oath to defend his country and endangered those who serve in the U.S. military,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen of the U.S. Justice Department’s National Security Division, per a press release by the department’s Office of Public Affairs.

“Today, he is being held to account for those crimes,” Olsen said, adding that the Justice Department is determined to fight Chinese government efforts to “undermine our nation’s security” and bring accountability to those found to be complicit.

Zhao had said the transactions were “easy money.” This, coupled with the fact he had been trained to report suspicious attempts to obtain such information, showed a “disregard for orders and rules,” Judge Patricia Donanue said in the order of detention.

Zhao emigrated from China in 2009 and became a naturalized American citizen in 2012. Five years later, he enlisted in the Navy, where he served as a construction electrician.

He was arrested on August 3, 2023.

In a separate spying case, another sailor, Jinchao “Patrick” Wei, was taken into custody August 1 on charges of conspiring to disclose national security information to a Chinese intelligence officer.

Wei, who served aboard amphibious assault ship USS Essex, was also accused of submitting national security-related information on the technical layout, systems and department locations of Essex and other Navy vessels since March 2022.

READ 13 COMMENTS
  • T-Boned and Driving it Home says:

    You can’t recruit your #1 Enemy and not expect sabatoge. US ARMED FORCES ARE THE IGNORANCE OF THE NATION. ITS BAD ENOUGH WE HAVE IGNORANTS LIKE GEN. MARK MILLEY, AND ERIC SWALWELL. TWO GOOD EXAMPLES OF STRAIGHT OUT TREASONIST IN PUBLIC VIEW. IT’S FKG MIND BOGGLING TO ME. BUT THEY ARE DRAGGING IN THE DOUGH. FANG FANG.

  • LetsGoBrandon says:

    The guy was a CCP spy from the beginning. There’s no telling how many more are in our military. That being said I’m much more concerned with the tens of thousands of CCP soldiers who have been streaming across our southern border who Mayorkas is turning loose. An attack is imminent and will come when the CCP attacks Taiwan. I have to believe that the Bidunce regime is aware of it and probably in on it. This leads me to believe that the CCP has video tapes of Hunter Biden having sex with Chinese children and are blackmailing his family.

  • Joseph T Gorman says:

    YOU SONS-OF-BITCHES THAT GAVE LIGHT SENTENCES TO THESE TRAITORS SHOULD RELINQUISH YOUR CITIZENSHIP!! YOU’RE WORSE THAT THEY ARE FOR ALLOWING THEM TO STAY IN OUR COUNTRY!!!!

  • Scurvydog says:

    Wow! Two years and a fine! How draconian the military is about espionage! They really set the example for the next puke that decides to become a traitor, huh? But, look who’s in the White House. All one need do to find the hive is follow the bees.

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