U.S. Navy Petty Officer Wenheng Zhao, also known as Thomas, has pleaded guilty to passing sensitive information and files to a Chinese intelligence officer in exchange for money, according to the Justice Department. Zhao, a Chinese-born naturalized U.S. citizen and resident of Monterey Park, admitted to conspiring with a foreign intelligence officer and receiving a bribe. He could face up to 20 years in prison, with a sentencing hearing scheduled for January 8. Zhao has been in custody since his arrest on August 3.
During his time stationed at Port Hueneme’s naval base, Zhao began passing sensitive material to a Chinese official between August 2021 and May 2023. He used his security clearance to access restricted military installations and gather information on the Navy’s operational security, training, exercises, and critical infrastructure. The information included plans for large-scale maritime training exercises in the Pacific, operational orders, electrical diagrams, and blueprints from a radar system on Okinawa Island.
Zhao transmitted the information using a sophisticated encrypted communication method and subsequently destroyed evidence to conceal his actions. He received at least $15,000 in payments over 14 transactions, although additional funds may have been exchanged. The FBI’s Counterintelligence and Cyber Division of the Los Angeles Field Office, along with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and the IRS Criminal Investigation agency, conducted the investigation.
U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada stated that Zhao betrayed his country and fellow servicemen by accepting bribes from a foreign adversary. FBI Assistant Director Donald Alway emphasized the risk posed by Zhao’s actions, as the Chinese government actively targets Americans with access to state secrets. Zhao’s arrest was announced alongside that of Jinchao Wei, another active-duty sailor who pleaded not guilty to espionage charges.