26-year-old Wenheng Zhao pleaded guilty to accepting bribes from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in exchange for non-public U.S. intelligence back in October 2023. Yet he wasn’t sentenced by a military court until January 8th, 2024. Ordered to receive a dishonorable discharge, he’ll also serve 27 months in federal prison, with credit for time served and $5,500 in fines for his crimes.
Larissa L. Knapp, FBI National Security branch executive assistant director, issued a statement about the case following the sentencing.
“Make no mistake, the PRC is engaged in an aggressive effort to undermine the national security of the U.S. and its partners. Zhao chose to betray the oath he took to our country and put others at risk by providing sensitive U.S. information to a PRC intelligence official. The Chinese Communist Party has repeatedly shown it will freely break any law or norm to achieve a perceived intelligence advantage. Today’s sentencing demonstrates, yet again, the inability of China’s Intelligence Services to prevent the FBI and our vital partners from apprehending and prosecuting the spies China recruits.”
Holding a secret clearance, Zhao used the access granted to him through his position with the US Navy to get intel for China. His findings focused on operational security, pieces of training and exercises for various branches of the military, as well as reports of critical infrastructure at various military installations. This included various Naval exercises in the Pacific, as well as the full layouts for radar systems throughout Japan.
With payments and intel coming from August 2021 until May 2023, he raked in $14,866 across more than a dozen payments. With multiple heavily encrypted channels being used for his transmission of information, Zhao not only knew full well what he was doing, but he was actively trying to cover his tracks.
A naturalized US citizen, Zhao had been born in China and was arrested back in July 2023, where he has been held without bail since. 22-year-old Jinchao Wei was also busted around the same time. Naturalized Chinese as well, Wei was busted for providing China with information about the ship and crew of the USS Essex, to which he was assigned. Facing espionage charges, he could be looking at a similar sentence.
For the last 20 years or so, the Chinese have been engaged in a massive intelligence-gathering effort. Using espionage and subterfuge to their advantage, they have been extensively focused on gathering American intel. Meanwhile, our nation has largely failed to capture any reliable intel on the nation or its battle plans. This goes for taking back Taiwan, helping our adversaries, or attacking the US.
This means they have been able to make great strides in both aeronautical and military tech with little to no outside intervention to delay or even impede this growth. As the US begins to make the barriers to entry for service lower, they continue taking foreign nationals who inherently pose a massive risk to national security. Even worse, they keep giving people like Zhao and Wei jobs with high-level clearances that make them incredibly attractive to their home nations.
Stories like these are typically the basis for mediocre military movies, yet here we are, living them out in real-time. Attacks like these are quiet and often go undiscovered before it’s too late to do something. While many civilians and those in the mainstream media look at these changes and scoff as if the information isn’t serious, like putting together a puzzle, a lot of little pieces quickly form one big picture.
Crimes like this are nothing less than treason. For the American government to fine Zhao less than he made for working for the Chinese is laughable. The fact that he is doing such a short stint in jail (and getting credit for time served) should anger every American. There is no need for slack to be cut for such crimes, nor is there a reason anyone should be advocating for them. No mistakes were made, they knew full well what they did, and they showed their true colors.
Throw the book at these bastards.