A US Navy serviceman, Petty Officer Wenheng Zhao, has been sentenced to 27 months in federal prison for accepting bribes from a Chinese intelligence officer in exchange for sensitive US military information. US District Judge R. Gary Klausner handed down the sentence, with the Justice Department seeking 37 months, citing Zhao’s obstruction of the government’s investigation. Zhao, who pleaded guilty to conspiring with a Chinese intelligence officer and receiving a bribe, admitted to accepting nearly $15,000 in bribes between August 2021 and May 2023. The information he provided included Navy operational security details, military training data, and critical infrastructure data.
Bribery Scheme Exposed: Navy Sailor Admits Betrayal of Country
Petty Officer Wenheng Zhao, stationed at Naval Base Ventura County, California, admitted to secretly transmitting sensitive information to China, betraying his country for financial gain. The 27-month prison sentence follows his guilty plea to accepting bribes from a Chinese intelligence officer. Zhao, who held security clearance, confessed to providing details about a large-scale maritime training exercise, operational orders, and technical information related to a Japanese radar system. The sentencing highlights the seriousness of compromising military secrets for personal benefit.
US Attorney Martin Estrada commended investigators for exposing Zhao’s corrupt scheme, emphasizing the vigilance that led to uncovering the espionage plot. Zhao, a naturalized US citizen born in China, faced charges of betraying the trust of the US Navy and jeopardizing national security.
The prosecutor noted the efforts taken by Zhao and the Chinese intelligence officer to conceal their actions, underscoring the gravity of the betrayal. The case serves as a reminder of the ongoing threats posed by foreign adversaries seeking classified military information.
Defendant’s Sentencing and Legal Defense
Zhao, 26, expressed readiness to take responsibility for his actions during the sentencing hearing, according to his attorney, Tarek Shawky. The defense acknowledged Zhao’s poor decisions, attributing them to misplaced trust. Shawky sought a 12-month sentence for his client, arguing that Zhao trusted someone he shouldn’t have. The legal proceedings shed light on the challenges posed by insider threats within the military and the need for robust security measures.
Zhao’s arrest coincided with the apprehension of another Navy sailor, Jinchao Wei, for a separate alleged plot to provide sensitive security information to Chinese officials. Wei, serving aboard the USS Essex, faces espionage charges for allegedly sharing detailed information about the ship and its crew with China. The parallel cases underscore the persistent efforts of foreign entities to exploit vulnerabilities within the US military and the importance of counterespionage measures.