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    US Navy sailor from Monterey Park pleads guilty in China secrets case
    • October 10, 2023

    LOS ANGELES — A U.S. Navy sailor from Monterey Park pleaded guilty Tuesday to federal charges and admitted taking bribes in exchange for sending sensitive military information to a Chinese intelligence officer.

    Petty Officer Wenheng Zhao, 26, also known as Thomas Zhao, entered his plea to one count of conspiring with the intelligence officer and one count of receiving a bribe, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

    Zhao, who worked at Naval Base Ventura County in Port Hueneme and held a U.S. security clearance, admitted he engaged in a corrupt scheme to collect and transmit sensitive U.S. military information to the Chinese intelligence officer in violation of his official duties.

    Zhao pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner, who scheduled a Jan. 8 sentencing hearing in Los Angeles federal court. As a result of his guilty pleas, Zhao faces up to 20 years in federal prison — five years for the conspiracy count and 15 years for the bribery charge. Zhao has been in custody since his arrest Aug. 3.

    Court papers show that, beginning in August 2021 and continuing through at least May of this year, Zhao sent U.S. military information, photographs and videos to the intelligence officer.

    In exchange for bribes, Zhao sent the intelligence officer operational plans for a large-scale U.S. military exercise in the Indo-Pacific Region, detailing the specific location and timing of naval movements, amphibious landings, maritime operations and logistics support, according to the indictment.

    He also admitted photographing electrical diagrams and blueprints for a radar system stationed on a U.S. military base in Okinawa, Japan.

    “The intelligence services of the People’s Republic of China actively target clearance holders across the military, seeking to entice them with money to provide sensitive government information,” Assistant Attorney General for National Security Matthew G. Olsen said in a statement.

    “When contacted by his co-conspirator, rather than reporting it to the Navy, the defendant chose greed over protecting the national security of the United States. He is now being held accountable for his crimes. To others tempted to put personal profit ahead of patriotic duty, know that we are committed to identifying you and bringing you to justice.”

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    Prosecutors said Zhao also obtained and transmitted details about the Navy’s operational security at the Naval Base in Ventura County and on San Clemente Island, including photographs and videos.

    The intelligence officer directed Zhao to conceal their relationship and to destroy evidence of the scheme, according to the DOJ.

    In exchange for the information Zhao provided — information he accessed as a result of his position within the U.S. Navy — the Chinese intelligence officer paid Zhao nearly $15,000, the indictment states.

    A second sailor based in San Diego was also arrested in August on similar charges, but it’s unclear if the cases are related or if the two seamen allegedly were in contact with the same Chinese officials.

    ​ Orange County Register