National Security

Navy Sailor Sentenced To Over 2 Years In Prison For Feeding Intelligence To China

U.S. Navy/Bill Mesta/Handout via REUTERS.

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Jake Smith Contributor
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A U.S. Navy sailor was sentenced to over two years in prison for transmitting sensitive intelligence to a Chinese military agent, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced on Monday.

Wenheng Zhao, a 26-year-old petty officer, pled guilty in October 2023 to accepting bribes from the Chinese in exchange for non-public U.S. intelligence that he collected while performing his duties, according to the DOJ. Zhao was dishonorably discharged and subsequently sentenced to 27 months in federal prison with $5,500 in fines for his crimes. (RELATED: US Intelligence Reveals Why China’s Xi Took A Sledgehammer To His Military)

“Make no mistake, the PRC is engaged in an aggressive effort to undermine the national security of the U.S. and its partners. Zhao chose to betray the oath he took to our country and put others at risk by providing sensitive U.S. information to a PRC intelligence official.” Larissa L. Knapp, FBI National Security branch executive assistant director, said in a statement Monday. “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,” Knapp said.

Zhao held special security clearance and used it to collect intelligence regarding the U.S. Navy’s “operational security, military trainings and exercises, and critical infrastructure,” according to the DOJ. Some of the intelligence Zhao collected included plans for Naval exercises in the Pacific region and technical layouts for radar systems in Japan.

Zhao then transmitted back to Beijing using “sophisticated encrypted communication methods” in exchange for bribery payments. He received a total of $14,866 in over a dozen separate payments from Beijing from August 2021 to May 2023, according to the DOJ.

The U.S. is struggling to keep pace with Chinese intelligence and espionage efforts, and little is known about what Beijing’s long-term plans are on a global front. “We have no real insight into leadership plans and intentions in China at all,” a former senior intelligence official told The Wall Street Journal in December.

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