In a shocking case of apparent espionage, a San Diego-based Navy sailor is accused of selling military information to China — while being encouraged by his mother.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Fred Sheppard revealed that Jinchao Wei is accused of providing sensitive documents to Chinese military officers. The 22-year-old was denied bond on Tuesday by U.S. Magistrate Judge Michelle Pettit after she agreed with prosecutors that he was a flight risk.
Sheppard described the China-born suspect as “a danger” to both the public and thousands of fellow sailors.
He also noted prosecutors believe that Wei’s mother, who he did not name, knew her son was selling military secrets to Beijing. Sheppard said she urged him to persist as it could lead to opportunities within the Chinese government in the future.
Her encouragement allegedly came while they were together over Christmas in Wisconsin last year.
🚨 Two Chinese-born spies employed by U.S. Navy with ‘Secret’ security clearances passed extremely sensitive military information to a Chinese Ministry of State Security (MSS) officer “employed by a hostile foreign state (China)”. Jinchao Wei and Wenheng Zhao were arrested. 1/3 pic.twitter.com/j6e0lVKIO8
— 🇺🇸 Kyle Bass 🇹🇼 (@Jkylebass) August 4, 2023
Wei faces four charges in San Diego federal court for his alleged role in providing “documents, sketches plans, notes, and information” to a Chinese military intelligence officer.
The illegal acts apparently came as Wei applied to become a naturalized U.S. citizen. Prosecutors alleged in the Tuesday detention hearing that Wei agreed to be an informant despite the danger it posed to his chances of becoming a citizen.
Officials estimated that Wei hauled in between $10,000 and $15,000, though the exact total has not been determined. That represented roughly 20% of his annual salary as an enlisted machinist mate.
Prosecutors asserted in documents that the information passed along by Wei to Beijing’s military put the U.S. national security at risk.
It also threatened the safety of his naval colleagues, something the government said the former sailor was aware of.
According to the indictment, Wei revealed details “regarding the defense and weapon capabilities of U.S. Navy ships, potential vulnerabilities of these ships and information related to ship movement.”
Court documents noted that in the same month, he allegedly began working for the Chinese government, Wei underwent counterintelligence training. Part of the session specifically cautioned sailors that they might encounter recruitment attempts through “social media and blogs.”
Vessels such as the USS Essex, Wei’s ship, are expected to be key instruments if war were to break out between the U.S. and China. Tensions between Washington and Beijing have mounted in recent months as China rapidly advances its military capabilities.