A US navy sailor pleaded guilty on Tuesday to accepting nearly $15,000 in bribes from a Chinese intelligence officer in exchange for photographs of unclassified private US military information, according to court papers.
Petty Officer Wenheng “Thomas” Zhao, 26, pleaded guilty to conspiracy and receiving a bribe, according to a plea agreement filed in federal court in Los Angeles.
Zhao admitted sending his Chinese handler plans for US military exercises in the Indo-Pacific region, operational orders, and electrical diagrams and blueprints for a radar system on a US military base in Okinawa, Japan, according to court documents and US officials. He was arrested in August.
Another navy sailor, Jinchao Wei, was also arrested in August on similar charges in a separate case. Wei, 22, who was assigned to the San Diego-based USS Essex, was arrested on a charge related to espionage involving a conspiracy to send national defence information to Chinese officials.
Zhao, who worked at Naval Base Ventura County in California, faces a maximum of 20 years in prison on the charges, but a judge will determine his final sentence.
A lawyer representing Zhao did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The US attorney, Martin Estrada, of the central district of California, said Zhao had “betrayed his country and the men and women of the US navy by accepting bribes from a foreign adversary”.
The US has accused China of an extensive campaign of espionage and cyber-attacks, a charge that Beijing has rejected.
Speaking of both arrests in August, Matthew G Olsen, the assistant attorney general of the justice department’s national security division, said: “These individuals stand accused of violating the commitments they made to protect the United States and betraying the public trust, to the benefit of the [Chinese] government.”
Because of their actions, “sensitive military info ended up in the hands of the People’s Republic of China”, Olsen said.