In two separate cases that resulted in arrests on the same day, two US Navy sailors have been accused of spying for China. There is no suggestion that they are linked even though both were arrested at the same time. However, the fact that the FBI stressed this aspect raises the suspicion that one led to the other and the FBI is, quite naturally, hoping to disguise this. The detainees are Jinchao Wei (22) aka Patrick Wei, (a machinist’s mate and a naturalised US citizen) and Petty Officer Wenheng Zhao (26) aka Thomas Zhao. Zhao worked at Ventura County Naval Base, near Los Angeles. He was the first of the pair to be recruited. He was approached in 2021 by a Chinese agent posing as business researcher seeking information for investment decisions. According to the indictment, Zhao was paid $15,000 for details of a radar system used at US bases in Okinawa. He seems to have done slightly less damage than Wei as he is charged with a slightly lesser offence and is only facing 20 years in prison.
Wei is facing 20 years to life and appears to be the main culprit. Wei worked on the USS Essex, an amphibious assault ship. It is said that he was recruited in February 2022 about the same time that he was going through the naturalisation process for citizenship – which is ironic. He appears to have supplied covert videos and photographs of US Navy ships and equipment as well as technical manuals. He additionally provided names and details of serving US Marines who trained on his ship.
They were both arrested at the US Naval Base in San Diego, California on 2 August. The motive appears to have been money as they were both paid thousands of dollars. There is no suggestion that they were deliberately planted in the US Navy. There is also no news yet of the agent who was running them.