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Navy sailor’s mom told son to give China US military secrets, DOJ says

U.S. and China flags (U.S. Department of Agriculture/Flickr)
August 11, 2023

A U.S. Navy sailor’s mother allegedly encouraged her son to work with a Chinese intelligence officer to provide sensitive military information to China in the hopes that it might help her son eventually get a job with the Chinese Communist Party.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Fred Sheppard outlined the accusation Tuesday during a federal court hearing in San Diego, during which the prosecution requested the judge overseeing Jinchao Wei’s case to not release the Navy sailor. Wei was arrested last week on charges of espionage.

According to the Department of Justice, the indictment against Wei alleges that the sailor who was stationed on the U.S.S. Essex at Naval Base San Diego used his role as a machinist’s mate and his U.S. security clearance to share classified U.S. intelligence with a Chinese intelligence officer. The indictment explains that Wei had access to the ship’s weapons, desalination, and propulsion systems.

The indictment claims that Wei began communicating with the Chinese intelligence officer in February of 2022. The Chinese intelligence officer allegedly asked Wei to provide information such as photos, videos, and documents pertaining to Navy ships.

Wei is also believed to have provided the officer with roughly 50 manuals of mechanical and technical information regarding Navy ships, as well as information pertaining to a Marine training exercise.

Wei and the Chinese intelligence officer reportedly hid their communications by using encrypted communication and deleting conversations.

As Sheppard urged the judge to prevent Wei’s release Tuesday, he claimed that when Wei traveled home for Christmas to visit his mother in Wisconsin, she not only was aware of her son’s communication with a Chinese intelligence officer, but encouraged him to continue providing the officer with information so that he could one day get a job with China’s government after leaving the U.S. Navy, according to The Associated Press.

The assistant attorney explained that the Chinese intelligence officer had expressed China’s willingness to fly both him and his mother to China for a meeting. Sheppard also noted that Wei had searched for flights to China earlier this year.

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During Tuesday’s hearing, Sheppard claimed that Wei’s espionage actions had put thousands of sailors in jeopardy due to the revelation of sensitive Navy information to China. The judge ultimately ruled that Wei would be held without bond in federal custody.

The judge ruled to keep him in federal custody without bond. If Wei is convicted on espionage charges, he could face a life-sentence to prison.

In addition to Wei, the Justice Department also has charged Navy sailor Wenheng Zhao, age 26, for collecting bribes from a Chinese intelligence officer in exchange for sensitive U.S. information. According to the Justice Department, the information Zhao exchanged included photos and videos of Navy facilities, operations, and exercises from August of 2021 to May of 2023.

Both Wei and Zhao have pleaded not guilty to the charges brought against them by the Justice Department.

“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 government,” Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division said.

“The Department of Justice will continue to use every tool in our arsenal to counter threats from China and to deter those who aid them in breaking our laws and threatening our national security.”