US Sailor Sold Secrets to China, Gets 2 Years

Thomas Zhao will do 27 months for taking bribes, stealing intel from his California base
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jan 10, 2024 12:05 PM CST
US Sailor Gets 2 Years for Taking Chinese Bribes
Cars enter Naval Base Ventura County, Aug. 25, 2005, in Ventura County, Calif. On Monday, Jan. 8, 2024, a Navy sailor based at here was sentenced to just over two years in federal prison for transmitting sensitive US military information to a Chinese intelligence officer.   (Dave Getzschman/The Ventura County Star via AP, File)

A US Navy sailor has been sentenced to just over two years in federal prison for transmitting sensitive US military information to a Chinese intelligence officer. Wenheng Zhao, who is also known as Thomas Zhao, of Monterey Park, was sentenced Monday to 27 months by a federal judge in Los Angeles. He pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy and one count of receiving a bribe in violation of his official duties. He was also fined $5,500. His defense lawyer, Tarek Shawky, called Zhao "a dedicated serviceman with an exemplary service record before this incident."

"He was the target of a sophisticated Chinese intelligence operation, and he made the mistake of sharing controlled, unclassified information with a foreign operative," Shawky said, per the AP. "He fully appreciates the severity of his actions and admitted guilt at an early stage." Zhao, based at Naval Base Ventura County in Port Hueneme, north of Los Angeles, collected nearly $15,000 in bribes in 14 different payments from a Chinese intelligence officer in exchange for information, photos, and videos of Navy exercises, operations, and facilities between August 2021 through at least May 2023, prosecutors said.

He held a US security government clearance and underwent routine trainings on efforts by hostile nation states to acquire sensitive information, according to the US Justice Department. The information included plans for a large-scale US military exercise in the Indo-Pacific region, which detailed the location and timing of naval force movements. The Chinese officer told Zhao the information was needed for maritime economic research to inform investment decisions, according to court documents.

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The Chinese officer offered to pay Zhao bonuses for controlled and classified information, according to prosecutors. Zhao used encrypted communications to transmit the information to the intelligence officer and destroyed the evidence to hide their relationship. "Mr. Zhao abdicated his oath to the United States and put American troops in harm's way when he accessed and handed over sensitive information to China," said Donald Alway, assistant director in charge of the FBI's Los Angeles Field Office. (More US-China relations stories.)

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