Two U.S. Navy sailors have been arrested on espionage charges and are accused of passing military secrets to China, the Department of Justice announced Thursday.
Jinchao Wei, 22, was arrested Wednesday at a San Diego, Calif., Naval base.
Prosecutors say Wei, a petty officer 2nd class, passed blueprints, ship locations, armaments details, and photos to a Chinese intelligence officer in exchange for money.
“According to the indictment, in February 2022, Wei began communicating with an intelligence officer from the PRC who requested that Wei provide information about the (the amphibious assault ship) USS Essex and other Navy ships,” the Justice Department said in a statement Thursday.
While the senators claim the vessels were in U.S. waters, the U.S. Northern Command told the Wall Street Journal the activity remained in international waters.”
A spokesperson for the Chinese embassy in the United States said in a statement that the Chinese and Russian militaries were conducting joint maritime patrols in “relevant waters” in the western and northern Pacific Ocean. They clarified that the operation was “not targeted at any third party.”
“This is a stark reminder of Alaska’s proximity to both China and Russia, as well as the essential role our state plays in our national defense and territorial sovereignty,” Murkowski said in a statement.
“At the request of the intelligence officer, between March 2022 and the present, Wei sent photographs and videos of the Essex, disclosed the locations of various Navy ships and described defensive weapons of the Essex. In exchange for this information, the intelligence officer paid Wei thousands of dollars over the course of the conspiracy,” the Justice Department said.
Petty Officer Wenhen Zhao, 26, was arrested and accused of taking bribes to pass sensitive information to a Chinese intelligence officer posing as a civilian maritime researcher.
“The indictment alleges that Zhao, who worked at Naval Base County in Port Hueneme and held a U.S. security clearance, received bribes from a Chinese intelligence officer in exchange for violating his official duties as a U.S. sailor by, among other actions, disclosing non-public sensitive U.S. military information,” the Justice Department said.
“These individuals stand accused of violating the commitments they made to protect the United States and betraying the public trust, to the benefit of the PRC,” said Assistant Attorney General Mattew Olsen, referring to the People’s Republic of China.
The Justice Department says Zhao secretly recorded and photographed military information and passed the recordings and videos to the Chinese officer. The indictment also alleges that Zhao revealed non-public details of U.S. military exercise and was paid $14,866 in total by his contact.
Spy activities have escalated tensions between the United States and China recently, especially earlier this year when a Chinese spy balloon traversed a large portion of the United States before being shot down over the Atlantic Ocean.