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US Navy sailor sentenced to 27 months for transmitting sensitive military info to China

A California-based U.S. Navy sailor has been sentenced to prison for handing the Chinese government sensitive military info, the U.S. Justice Department says.

A U.S. Navy sailor has been sentenced to 27 months in prison after transmitting sensitive military information to a Chinese intelligence officer in exchange for around $15,000 in bribe payments, the Justice Department says. 

The punishment against Petty Officer Wenheng Zhao, aka Thomas Zhao, a 26-year-old from Monterey Park, California, was issued Monday following his October 2023 guilty plea to one count of conspiring with the intelligence officer and one count of receiving a bribe, according to the Justice Department. 

"Mr. Zhao betrayed his solemn oath to defend his country and endangered those who serve in the U.S. military," Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division said in a statement. "The Justice Department is committed to combatting the Chinese government’s efforts to undermine our nation’s security and holding accountable those who violate our laws as part of those efforts."

The agency said between August 2021 and at least May 2023, Zhao, who worked and held a U.S. security clearance at Naval Base Ventura County in Port Hueneme, California, "received at least $14,866 in at least 14 separate bribe payments from the intelligence officer." 

US NAVY SAILOR ENCOURAGED BY MOTHER TO SELL SECRETS TO CHINA FOR POSSIBLE JOB OPPORTUNITIES, ATTORNEY SAYS 

"In exchange for the illicit payments, Zhao secretly collected and transmitted to the intelligence officer sensitive, non-public information regarding U.S. Navy operational security, military trainings and exercises, and critical infrastructure," the Justice Department said. "Zhao entered restricted military and naval installations to collect and record this 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," it added. 

2 SAILORS HIT WITH CHARGES TIED TO NATIONAL SECURITY, CHINA 

Federal prosecutors alleged that Zhao used encrypted communication methods to transmit the information and then destroyed evidence and tried to hide his relationship with the Chinese officer. 

In addition to the sentencing, Zhao also has been ordered to pay a $5,500 fine. 

The investigation into his behavior was carried out by the FBI Los Angeles Field Office’s Counterintelligence and Cyber Division and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service with assistance from the IRS, the Justice Department says. 

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