I have no idea why the DOJ is putting out a press release about this. It seems more like the sort of thing to never mention again.
A U.S. Navy service member was sentenced today to 27 months in prison and ordered to pay a $5,500 fine for transmitting sensitive U.S. military information to an intelligence officer from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in exchange for bribery payments.
According to court documents, Petty Officer Wenheng Zhao, 26, aka Thomas Zhao, of Monterey Park, California, pleaded guilty in October 2023 to one count of conspiring with the intelligence officer and one count of receiving a bribe.
Between August 2021 and at least May 2023, Zhao received at least $14,866 in at least 14 separate bribe payments from the intelligence officer. 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. 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.
He used sophisticated encrypted communication methods to transmit the information. He also destroyed evidence and concealed his relationship with the intelligence officer. Zhao’s conduct violated his official duties to protect such information and the oath he swore to protect the United States.
And for that he gets two years. And a fine that’s about a third of the money he got for his treason.
Some people have gotten more than this for petty crimes.
Zhao started out facing 20 years in prison. He ended up pleading guilty to only one count. And Zhao had the chutzpah to ask to be released until trial.
In exchange for bribes, Zhao allegedly sent the intelligence officer operational plans for a large-scale U.S. military exercise in the Indo-Pacific Region, detailing the specific location and timing of naval movements, amphibious landings, maritime operations and logistics support, according to the indictment.
He also allegedly photographed electrical diagrams and blueprints for a radar system stationed on a U.S. military base in Okinawa, Japan.
Prosecutors contend Zhao obtained and transmitted details about the Navy’s operational security at the Naval Base in Ventura County and on San Clemente Island, including photographs and videos.
The damage here in the event of a war could have been and could still be catastrophic. And yet there was a light slap.
Zhao could have been sentenced to up to five years for the conspiracy count and 15 years for the bribery charge, and prosecutors sought 37 months, claiming that the defendant had tried to obstruct their investigation. Zhao’s lawyer sought 12 months. US District Judge R. Gary Klausner took the middle ground and settled on 27 months.
That’s an interesting interpretation of middle ground. Why were prosecutors only asking for three years after all that?
China certainly got its money’s worth here. And more.