A US Navy Sailor will spend 27 months in prison and pay a $5,500 fine for transmitting sensitive US Military information to an intelligence officer from the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
Petty Officer Wenheng Zhao, 26, aka Thomas Zhao, of Monterey Park, California, committed a crime in exchange for bribery payments that totaled at least $14,866 in at least 14 separate bribe payments between August 2021 and at least May 2023, according to court documents.
Zhao pleaded guilty in October 2023 to one count of conspiring with the intelligence officer and one count of receiving a bribe.
“Mr. Zhao betrayed his solemn oath to defend his country and endangered those who serve in the US military,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division.
Zhao worked at Naval Base Ventura County in Port Hueneme and held a US security clearance. Investigators found that he engaged in a corrupt scheme to collect and transmit sensitive US military information to the PRC’s intelligence officer in violation of his official duties.
Zhao secretly collected and transmitted non-public information regarding US Navy operational security, military training and exercises, and critical infrastructure while on duty to protect such information. Zhao entered restricted military and naval installations to collect and record this information.
The transmitted information includes plans for a large-scale maritime training exercise in the Pacific theatre, operational orders, and electrical diagrams and blueprints for a Ground/Air Task Oriented Radar system located in Okinawa, Japan.
Zhao used sophisticated encrypted communication methods to send the information. He also destroyed evidence and concealed his relationship with the intelligence officer.
“Zhao betrayed his country and disgraced himself when he accepted bribes from an intelligence officer with the People’s Republic of China,” said US Attorney Martin Estrada for the Central District of California. “As a result, he has now been removed from the military and will serve time in federal prison. Today’s sentence shows that my office will swiftly act to root out and punish those who seek to undermine our nation’s security.”
Acting Special Agent in Charge Angel Cruz of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) Office of Special Projects said that anyone who attempts to compromise national security will be vigorously pursued.
“Make no mistake, the PRC is engaged in an aggressive effort to undermine the national security of the US and its partners,” Executive Assistant Director Larissa L. Knapp of the FBI’s National Security Branch added.
“The Chinese Communist Party has repeatedly shown it will freely break any law or norm to achieve a perceived intelligence advantage. Today’s sentencing demonstrates, yet again, the inability of China’s Intelligence Services to prevent the FBI and our vital partners from apprehending and prosecuting the spies China recruits.”
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