US Naval Officer Sentenced As Spy For China

A US Naval Officer was sentenced today for sending sensitive military information to the Chinese government. Petty Officer 2nd Class Wenheng Zhao, also known as Thomas Zhao, was given a 27-month sentence and fined $5,500 for his role in selling military secrets in exchange for bribes.

Mr. Zhao had worked as an electrician at Naval Base Ventura County, or NBVC, in California and held a US security clearance. According to federal prosecutors, he received almost $15,000 in bribes between August 2021 and May 2023 to divulge military information to his Chinese spy handler, who is not named.

In exchange, Mr. Zhao sent sensitive military information via encrypted communication methods. This information included videos and photos of restricted areas of military installations, plans for large-scale US Naval exercises in the Pacific, and even diagrams and blueprints for a Ground/Air Task Oriented Radar system in Okinawa, Japan. He destroyed evidence and tried to hide proof of his relationship with the Chinese intelligence officer, but was arrested in 2023 when his crimes came to light.

Around the same time, another US Navy member was accused of similar crimes. Jinchao Wei, stationed with the USS Essex, was arrested for espionage conspiracy to send critical information to the Chinese government. Like Mr. Zhao, Mr. Wei sent China sensitive information about the ship, technical manuals, and information about upcoming training exercises. However, it is not clear whether Mr. Wei and Mr. Zhao worked with the same handler, or whether they worked together to transmit sensitive information.

In October 2023, federal prosecutors agreed to recommend a lighter sentence for Mr. Zhao when he agreed to a guilty plea. His 27-month prison sentence, just over two years, is shorter than other prison sentences for Americans convicted of spying for China. For example, Kevin Patrick Mallory, a former CIA officer, received a 20-year sentence in 2019 for sending American secrets to China. Mr. Zhao’s prison sentence is also significantly less time than the maximum possible sentence of 20 years that he could have received. That would have included 15 years for bribery and another five for conspiracy.

The Counterintelligence and Cyber Division of the FBI Los Angeles Field Office worked with NCIS to conduct the investigation into Mr. Zhao. They were helped substantially by the IRS Criminal Investigation Division.