US Navy sailor’s mom encouraged him to pass military details to China, prosecutor says

by Gabriel Martinez
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According to the prosecutor’s statements on Tuesday, the mother of a U.S. Navy sailor, who is currently facing charges for sharing sensitive military information with China, allegedly encouraged her son to collaborate with a Chinese intelligence officer. The purpose behind this encouragement was to potentially secure a future job within the Chinese government. The Assistant U.S. Attorney, Fred Sheppard, presented these claims during a hearing in a San Diego federal court where he argued against the release of the accused sailor, Jinchao Wei, who was recently arrested under the uncommon charge of espionage.

Jinchao Wei is one of two California-based sailors accused of supplying China with sensitive military data, including information about wartime drills, naval operations, and critical technical materials. The prosecution has not confirmed whether these two sailors were approached or remunerated by the same Chinese intelligence officer as part of a larger scheme.

Jinchao Wei, aged 22 and born in China, was charged by the Justice Department using the Espionage Act, a statute that criminalizes the gathering and transmission of information to aid a foreign government. Both sailors, including Wei, have pleaded not guilty.

Prosecutors revealed that Wei was initially approached by a Chinese intelligence officer in February 2022 while he was in the process of applying for U.S. citizenship. He acknowledged to the officer that this arrangement might impact his citizenship application, yet he still provided the officer with intricate data about weapon systems, aircraft, and amphibious assault ships, such as the Essex, which function as smaller aircraft carriers.

In their efforts to prevent his release, the prosecutor, Sheppard, disclosed that when Wei visited his mother in Wisconsin during Christmas, she was aware of his involvement and even encouraged him to continue assisting the Chinese intelligence officer. The motive was allegedly tied to the potential for future employment with China’s Communist Party after Wei’s tenure in the U.S. Navy. Sheppard further stated that the intelligence officer proposed flying Wei and his mother to China for an in-person meeting, and Wei researched flights to China as a result. The officer also instructed Wei to purchase a computer and phone for transmitting information, with the promise of reimbursement from the Chinese government.

Wei’s defense attorney, Jason Conforti, argued that Wei poses no threat to the community and no longer has access to military information. Sheppard countered that Wei’s actions had jeopardized thousands of sailors by disclosing sensitive Navy ship details. The judge ultimately decided to keep Wei in federal custody without the possibility of bail.

The indictment against Wei alleges that he shared up to 50 manuals containing technical and mechanical information about Navy ships, as well as particulars about the Marines’ numbers and training in upcoming exercises. The prosecutor stated that Wei made between $10,000 to $15,000 from this arrangement over the past year. If convicted, he could face a potential life sentence.

The Justice Department also charged another sailor, Wenheng Zhao, aged 26 and stationed at Naval Base Ventura County near Los Angeles, with conspiring to receive nearly $15,000 in bribes from a Chinese intelligence officer. In exchange, Zhao allegedly provided information, photos, and videos related to Navy exercises, operations, and facilities between August 2021 and at least May. This information encompassed details of a major U.S. military exercise in the Indo-Pacific region, including specifics about the timing and location of naval force movements.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Espionage

What are the charges against the U.S. Navy sailor mentioned in the text?

The U.S. Navy sailor is charged with providing sensitive military information to China, including details on wartime exercises and naval operations.

How did the sailor’s mother play a role in the case?

The sailor’s mother allegedly encouraged him to cooperate with a Chinese intelligence officer, suggesting it could help him secure a job with the Chinese government in the future.

What law is the sailor charged under?

The sailor is charged under the Espionage Act, which makes it a crime to gather or deliver information to aid a foreign government.

Are there other individuals involved in similar activities?

Yes, another sailor based at Naval Base Ventura County, Wenheng Zhao, is also charged with conspiring to collect bribes in exchange for providing information, photos, and videos related to Navy exercises and operations to a Chinese intelligence officer.

What was the outcome of the hearing for the accused sailor?

The judge ruled to keep the accused sailor, Jinchao Wei, in federal custody without bond.

What potential penalties does the accused sailor face if convicted?

If convicted, Jinchao Wei could potentially face a sentence of up to life in prison.

What information did the accused sailor allegedly share with the Chinese intelligence officer?

The accused sailor allegedly provided detailed information on weapons systems, aircraft, and amphibious assault ships, as well as plans for U.S. military exercises and the training of Marines.

How did the accused sailor receive compensation for his activities?

The prosecution claimed that the accused sailor, Jinchao Wei, made between $10,000 to $15,000 in the past year from the arrangement with the Chinese intelligence officer.

What was the judge’s reasoning for keeping the accused sailor in custody?

The judge’s decision to keep the accused sailor in federal custody without bail was likely influenced by concerns related to the potential risks posed by the sensitive information shared.

Is the accused sailor the only one charged with espionage in this case?

No, Jinchao Wei is one of two sailors facing charges for providing sensitive military information to China. The other sailor, Wenheng Zhao, is also facing similar charges.

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