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US Navy sailor pleads guilty to sending military information to Chinese intelligence officer

By Piper Hudspeth Blackburn, CNN

(CNN) — A Navy sailor pleaded guilty Tuesday to sending sensitive US military information to a Chinese intelligence officer, the Justice Department announced.

Petty Officer Wenheng Zhao, 26, of Monterey Park, California, pleaded guilty to conspiring with the Chinese officer and receiving a bribe. Zhao worked at Naval Base Ventura County in Port Hueneme, California.

“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,” Matthew Olsen, assistant attorney general for national security, said in a statement.

Zhao’s guilty plea comes months after he and another sailor were indicted and arrested for allegedly sending sensitive information to Chinese intelligence operatives.

According to the August indictment against him, Zhao allegedly sent information that included operational plans for a major military exercise in the Indo-Pacific to a Chinese intelligence officer posing as a maritime economic researcher between August 2021 and May 2023.

Prosecutors also said that Zhao, who was responsible for installing, repairing and servicing electrical equipment on US military installations, took photos of computer screens that displayed “operational orders of military training exercises” and provided them to the “researcher.” The indictment also accused Zhao of transmitting photos of blueprints and diagrams of a US radar system stationed on a military base in Okinawa, Japan.

In exchange for sending the information, Zhao received approximately $15,000 from the officer, prosecutors said.

Zhao, who has been in custody since his arrest, faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. His sentencing is set for January 8.

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CNN’s Natasha Bertrand contributed to this report.

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