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Navy judge sentences sailor convicted of attempted espionage to 18 years in military prison

A U.S. military policy that blocks HIV-positive service members from being commissioned as officers has "no rational basis," a federal judge said in declining to throw out claims brought by graduates of the Air Force and Navy academies. (Dreamstime/TNS)

A military judge in San Diego has sentenced a Navy chief convicted of attempted espionage and other charges to 18 years in military prison.

Chief Petty Officer Bryce Steven Pedicini, who was convicted of selling military secrets to a foreign intelligence agent posing as a researcher, was also reduced in rank to an E-1 and dishonorably discharged Wednesday during a general court-martial at Naval Base San Diego, a Navy spokesperson said.

Pedicini, a Tennessee native who enlisted in the Navy in 2008, was convicted of attempted espionage, failure to obey a general order and attempted violation of a general order following an April trial. He had previously pleaded guilty to another charge of failure to obey a general order.

According to documents released by the military justice system, the foreign agent messaged Pedicini on Facebook in October 2022 claiming to be a defense researcher from a Japanese organization. The agent offered Pedicini money in exchange for information about U.S. military capabilities and strategies. Military prosecutors have not disclosed publicly what nation the intelligence agent worked for.

Military prosecutors alleged that between November 2022 and May 2023, Pedicini sent the agent several documents over Facebook Messenger. He also allegedly sent the agent digital photographs of material that he accessed on a secure terminal connected to a non-public military computer network.

KPBS reported that during the trial, prosecutors accused Pedicini of writing a series of “white papers” detailing aspects of U.S. naval strategy for which he was paid $1,000 each. Prosecutors alleged in documents related to the case that several of the papers contained classified information.

“Pedicini engaged with the foreign government representative under the guise of writing research papers, a tactic increasingly used by foreign adversaries to obtain classified and unclassified national defense information,” the Naval Criminal Investigative Service said in a statement last month after Pedicini’s conviction.

During most of the time he was sending the agent information, Pedicini was stationed in Virginia, according to his personnel file. A month before his May 19, 2023, arrest, he was assigned to the USS Higgins, a guided-missile destroyer whose homeport is in Japan.

Personnel records show that Pedicini was a chief fire controlman trained in the AEGIS weapons system. Citing trial testimony, KPBS reported that parts of that weapons system are classified as secret, and thus sailors who work on it are required to obtain and maintain secret security clearances.

About three months after Pedicini’s arrest, federal authorities arrested two other Navy sailors, including one based in San Diego, on suspicion of spying for a foreign country. There is no indication the three cases are related.

Jinchao “Patrick” Wei, a Chinese-born naturalized U.S. citizen who worked at Naval Base San Diego, was indicted in August on four espionage-related counts. Prosecutors allege Wei, who held a security clearance, stole national defense information and sold it to a Chinese spy. He has pleaded not guilty and is set to go to trial later this year.

Wenheng “Thomas” Zhao, also a naturalized U.S. citizen from China, was arrested and indicted in federal court in Los Angeles on the same day as Wei. Zhao has since pleaded guilty to bribery and conspiracy charges, admitting that he accepted nearly $15,000 in bribes for sending sensitive but unclassified military information to his Chinese handler. A federal judge sentenced Zhao to two years and three months in federal prison.


© 2024 The San Diego Union-Tribune

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