Petty Officer Wenheng Zhao, 26, of Monterey Park, California, pleaded guilty on Tuesday to one count of conspiring with a Chinese intelligence officer and another count of receiving a bribe, according to court records.
Both counts are felonies, according to the US Attorney's Office for the Central District of California.
“Officer Zhao betrayed his country and the men and women of the US Navy by accepting bribes from a foreign adversary,” US Attorney Martin Estrada said in a statement on Tuesday. “While he and the PRC officer he served took great pains to conceal their corrupt scheme, investigators were vigilant in uncovering this shameful plot.”
Zhao admitted to accepting approximately $15,000 in bribes from a Chinese intelligence agent between August 2021 and May 2023, according to the New York Post.
He was stationed at Naval Base Venture County in Port Hueneme, California, at the time of the exchange.
The sailor possessed a security clearance and used it to access training information, operational order, and blueprints for a Japanese radar system, which he then sold to the Chinese government.
“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,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security Matthew Olsen. 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.”
Zhao is scheduled to be sentenced on 8 January, 2024. He is facing up to 20 years in federal prison.
“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,” Mr Olsen said.
Another Navy sailor, Jinchao Wei, was also arrested around the same time in a separate case. He is accused of passing sensitive security information to Chinese officials.
He allegedly provided Chinese intelligence officials with detailed information about the USS Essex and its crew.