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China spy Wenheng Zhao seen in US Navy photo

Construction Electrician 3rd Class Wenheng Zhao, assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 3, is seen in November 2019 during a training exercise at Fort Hunter Liggett, California. Photo via US Navy

Lenient 27-Month Jail Term for US Navy Sailor in China Espionage Case

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January 9, 2024

A U.S. Navy sailor was sentenced to only 27 months in jail on Monday for accepting bribes from a Chinese intelligence officer in exchange for photos of sensitive U.S. military information.

Petty Officer Wenheng “Thomas” Zhao, 26, pleaded guilty last October to conspiracy and receiving a bribe. Zhao, who had faced a maximum of 20 years in prison, received only 27 months and a light $5,500 fine for transmitting sensitive U.S. military information to an intelligence officer from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in exchange for bribery payments. That fine is considerably lower than the $14,866 in at least 14 separate bribe payments China paid Zhao.

“Mr. Zhao betrayed his oath to the United States and deserves to be held fully accountable for accepting bribes in exchange for transmitting sensitive U.S. military information to an intelligence officer from the People’s Republic of China,” said Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) Special Agent Angel Cruz. “NCIS will continue to leverage its unique law enforcement and counterintelligence authorities to vigorously pursue those who attempt to compromise our national security information.”

Zhao transmitted plans for a large-scale maritime training exercise in the Pacific theatre, operational orders and electrical diagrams and blueprints for a Ground/Air Task Oriented Radar system located in Okinawa, Japan.

He used sophisticated encrypted communication methods to transmit the information. He also destroyed evidence and concealed his relationship with the intelligence officer. According to the Justice Department Zhao’s conduct violated his official duties to protect such information and the oath he swore to protect the United States.

(c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2024.

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