NewsLocal News


Navy sailor assigned to San Diego-based ship faces espionage charges

Jinchao Wei court sketch
The USS Essex
Posted at 10:53 AM, Aug 03, 2023
and last updated 2023-08-04 09:44:00-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) – A Navy sailor assigned to the San Diego-based USS Essex was arrested and charged with espionage, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office announced Thursday that 22-year-old Jinchao Wei, who is also known as Patrick Wei, was taken into custody as he reported for duty at Naval Base San Diego on Wednesday.

Per an indictment unsealed Thursday morning, Wei -- who serves as a machinist’s mate -- had U.S. security clearance, which allowed him access to sensitive national defense information about naval ships’ weapons, propulsion, and desalination systems.

Officials stated the espionage charge is “reserved for the most serious circumstances involving the passage of national defense information intended to harm the United States or for the benefit of a foreign power.”

U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman said Wei's prosecution represents the first time an espionage-related charge has been filed against someone in the Southern District of California.

Grossman said that per the indictment, Wei was approached by a Chinese intelligence officer while his application to become a U.S. citizen was pending.

"Wei admitted to his handler that he knew this activity would be viewed as spying and could affect his pending citizenship application," Grossman said. "Whether it was greed or for some other reason, Wei allegedly chose to turn his back on his newly adopted country and enter a conspiracy with his Chinese handler."

Wei allegedly began his communication with a Chinese intelligence officer in February 2022 and provided information about the USS Essex and other ships.

Wei and the Chinese intelligence officer “agreed to hide communications by deleting records of conservations, using encrypted methods of communication.”

Officials alleged Wei was paid thousands of dollars “over the course of the conspiracy” from March 2022 to the present.

The indictment alleged Wei was tasked with passing photos, videos, and documents concerning Navy ships and systems. From June-October 2022, Wei allegedly sent at least 56 mechanical and technical manuals of ships to the officer. “The officer confirmed with Wei that at least 10 of those manuals were useful to him," officials said.

Wei's arrest coincided with the arrest of another sailor who worked at Naval Base Ventura County and was indicted on similar charges.

That sailor, Petty Officer Wenheng Zhao, 26, allegedly sent operational plans for a large-scale U.S. military exercise in the Indo-Pacific Region to a Chinese information officer. Zhao was also paid thousands of dollars for the information, prosecutors allege.

Officials declined to comment on whether both sailors were communicating with the same intelligence officer.

Watch the press conference where the indictments were announced below:

City News Service contributed to this report