By Raphael Satter and Kanishka Singh
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Two U.S. Navy sailors have been arrested on charges of handing over sensitive national security material to China, U.S. officials said Thursday.
Petty Officer Wenheng Zhao, 26, was charged with conspiracy and bribetaking in connection with taking nearly $15,000 in exchange for photographs and videos of sensitive U.S. military information, the officials said. U.S. Navy sailor, Jinchao Wei, whose age was not disclosed, was charged with conspiring to send national defense information to China in exchange for thousands of dollars.
Assistant Attorney General Matt Olsen told reporters in San Diego that, because of the men’s actions, “sensitive military info ended up in the hands of the People’s Republic of China.”
Zhao is accused of sending his Chinese handler plans for U.S. military exercises in the Indo-Pacific region, electrical diagrams and blueprints for a radar system on a U.S. military base in Okinawa, Japan and security details for U.S. naval facilities in Ventura County and San Clemente Island outside Los Angeles, according to U.S. officials.
Wei is accused of disclosing information about the USS Essex, an amphibious assault ship where he served, as well as other American warships, including dozens of technical manuals laying out the Essex’s weapons, power structure and operations.
Contact details for Wei and Zhao could not immediately be located.
U.S. officials at the press conference condemned China’s espionage campaign Thursday.
“There is no bigger, multigenerational threat to the United States” than China, said FBI Special Agent Stacey Moy. Beijing “will stop at nothing to attack the United States in its strategic plan to become the world’s sole superpower.”
The Chinese Embassy in Washington did not immediately return a message seeking comment on the allegations.
U.S.-China relations have been tense for years over a range of national security and trade issues. The United States has accused China of espionage and cyberattacks, a charge that Beijing has rejected. China has also declared that it is under threat from spies.
(Reporting by Kanishka Singh and Raphael Satter in Washington; Editing by Mark Porter, Alison Williams, Jonathan Oatis and Cynthia Osterman)