back to article Two US Navy sailors charged with giving Chinese spies secret military info

Two US Navy service members appeared in federal court Thursday accused of espionage and stealing sensitive military information for China in separate cases. Jinchao Wei, aka Patrick Wei, and Wenheng Zhao, aka Thomas Zhao, each pleaded not guilty. According to US prosecutors at his hearing in southern California, Wei allegedly …

  1. Michael Hoffmann Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Does the US pay that badly?

    You're risking decades in the clink for $15K?! I thought the US military paid somewhat decently and you got pretty good healthcare?

    Any Chinese "spymasters" reading this: add 3 0's before approaching me. I want my wife and pets taken care of, if I spend the rest of my life in a 4x3m cell.

    (do I have to add "no this was not an incitement to approach me about espionage" in this day and age? Probably, yes. I don't even work with or for the military)

    1. FIA Silver badge

      Re: Does the US pay that badly?

      Literally this....

      Although I'm now also wondering if I can crowd fund some international espionage?

      If $15K will get me tactical battleship plans I reckon I could get the Colonel's secret recipe for what? 500 quid??

      1. chivo243 Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: Does the US pay that badly?

        I already have the Colonel's secret recipe! Chicken, salt and grease! I also have others...

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Does the US pay that badly?

        I suspect their 15k got them bugger all of any value. I dare say that chinese intelligence officers have KPIs to meet like the rest of us , that the have to check off.

        "Informant A has access to top secret US navy facilities and supplied us with critical information on equipment in the desalinated fresh water system"

        "Bob the plumber gave us exploded diagrams of a tap, with the order codes for spare washers and leather glands"

        1. Spazturtle Silver badge

          Re: Does the US pay that badly?

          Even if they got the designs to a US ship it would be useless to China, they don't have the metallurgy to build any ships to those designs. Look at their new carrier, the flight deck is already buckling.

          1. herman

            Re: Does the US pay that badly?

            The Chinese carrier is a Russian design.

            1. Spazturtle Silver badge

              Re: Does the US pay that badly?

              Their old one is an old Soviet carrier that they refitted and that one is running much better then the one the Russians use, their new one is their own design.

    2. DS999 Silver badge

      Re: Does the US pay that badly?

      Based on their surnames they have Chinese heritage, and may still have relatives living in China. Even if not a patriotic appeal to support the country their ancestors came from may have played a bigger part than the money.

      I have to think there was also a large element of "there's no chance I'll be caught" and "even if they catch me I'll be able to talk my way out of it". A lot of criminals think they are smarter than everyone else, or at least smarter than law enforcement.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Does the US pay that badly?

        "even if they catch me I'll be able to talk my way out of it"

        That is exactly what Trump's ability to stay out of jail has brought. The fact that he's still not in custody awaiting sentencing for his actions only helps to amplify that belief - anyone else would already behind bars awaiting sentencing. He hasn't got as much as an ankle band, can still threaten witnesses via asocial media and wine and dine whoever he handed the nation's secrets to as if mounting an insurrection and getting people killed was a perfectly normal thing to do. Worse is that most of his political party still protects him.

        Putin's war with Ukraine may not go so well, but the job he did on the US' credibility with the help of McConnell, Trump and the Republicans is the most successful ever mounted by an autocratic regime and it's a good question if the resulting problems will ever be cleaned up as the idiots have been let loose.

        1. Pascal Monett Silver badge
          Trollface

          Apparently he's read your post too.

        2. Bearshark

          Re: Does the US pay that badly?

          Keep on topic, please. No one cares about your political views.

          1. DS999 Silver badge

            Re: Does the US pay that badly?

            Uh oh someone is crying that his orange Jesus is going to prison!

      2. steviebuk Silver badge

        Re: Does the US pay that badly?

        It could also even be "You still have family here in China. They won't have such a good life if you don't do this for us" as the CCP do this regularly with ex-pats to convince them to return to China.

      3. aerogems Silver badge

        Re: Does the US pay that badly?

        I was actually thinking there's a possibility that they were threatening relatives of these individuals who still lived in China. Per another story on the same topic, both are naturalized citizens, so probably still have a lot of close familial links to China. Though the guy who bragged to someone else about being recruited for espionage is just a right moron and deserves whatever ends up coming to him.

    3. Paul Herber Silver badge

      Re: Does the US pay that badly?

      'I want my wife and pets taken care of'

      Have no fear, all your relatives will 'be taken care of' ...

      1. low_resolution_foxxes

        Re: Does the US pay that badly?

        You just have to hope with Russian security services that they use an English speaking native to translate the meaning of "I want my family taken care of"

        "Igor, he says his wife is a pain in the ass, she needs to be wrapped in carpet and buried in the woods".

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Does the US pay that badly?

      I've had companies pay me more to keep quiet about how old their tech stack is.

    5. parlei Bronze badge

      Re: Does the US pay that badly?

      Same thought. If it was life changing money, that would allow me to live the rest of my life in comfort and financial security I at least would listen politely. But barely enough to buy a new low budget car? Howls of derisive laughter.

      Wait, actually... Assume you get told that we would reward your loyalty to the Great Nation of the PRC with $15k. Or your grandfather would go to a destructive labour camp and your cousin gets gang-raped by dogs. So you go to your local security folks telling them what happened. They give you relatively harmless stuff to pass along, with some subtle false stuff inserted as needed. Then they decide to end the charade, and arrest you, convict you and place you in the in the appropriate prison. And a year so so later someone with a new identity starts a new life in Podunk City, Oklahoma. Perhaps even a (vocational?) college grant from some suitable source. That is how I would run it, and that is the deal I would ask for if placed in that position.

    6. aerogems Silver badge
      Unhappy

      Re: Does the US pay that badly?

      Unfortunately, yes. Pay rates for the military are just criminally low considering how much of our GDP is funneled into our military. But of course, paying people who volunteer to put themselves in harm's way for the rest of the citizenry would be considered socialism to a certain political party and they'd rather just give billion dollar contracts to arms manufacturers.

      1. MetalScythe
        Mushroom

        Re: Does the US pay that badly?

        The nail, you hit it so cleanly centerline, that it collapsed into a singularity.

  2. deevee

    the US are such hypocrites

    I wonder if they are going to charge themselves with spying on China, or recruiting Chinese sailors/citizens to give them Chinese intelligence...

    Will they remove all their spy bases around the world, and disassemble ECHELON and all similar spying mechanisms?

    How about disbanding the NSA/FBI and CIA spying organisations??

    1. Dinanziame Silver badge
      Holmes

      Re: the US are such hypocrites

      Nobody is claiming spying is morally right — that doesn't mean they won't do it, and the fact they do it doesn't mean they will allow it against themselves. In a football match, both try to score on the opposite goal and tries to prevent the opposite team from scoring. There's no hypocrisy in that.

      1. FIA Silver badge

        Re: the US are such hypocrites

        Nobody is claiming spying is morally right

        Okay... I'll bite... why is it morally wrong?

        If you're concerned for your safety, would you not take all steps you could to ensure it? Where do you draw the line? Is it okay to peer over your fence at your neighbour because they've decided to do some major garden work and you're worried if it'll have any effect on your property?

        What about if you're at war? Should you not attempt to learn as much about your enemy as you can? (Even if you are the baddies.)

        I'm not saying consequences of spying can't be immoral, but I'd argue the desire and act of espionage is as old as humanity, and just as deeply ingrained.

        1. sten2012 Bronze badge

          Re: the US are such hypocrites

          > the desire and act of espionage is as old as humanity, and just as deeply ingrained.

          The further back these traditions go, and the deeper into human nature they reach often correlates with how immoral they probably are.

          People are crap. Will always probably be crap. But we should and usually do aim to be less crap than we used to be.

          s/crap/phraseofchoice/g

          1. FIA Silver badge

            Re: the US are such hypocrites

            s/crap/phraseofchoice/g

            Can I choose 'selfish', as a lot of humanities woes can be traced back to that.

            It's very very hard for most people to (say) club someone to death.... but it's much much easier to like the post that helps fuel the fires of social unrest that can lead to someone getting clubbed to death.

            People look after themselves, their famines and their friends. We all do, and if that means i use a bit more resources than I probably should, so what, my family are special to me.....

            The problem is, that attitude gets compounded the more of us there are, so a person is kind, but a city can be cruel, and a country can at one hand preach justice whilst at the same time holding people without trial. (They're bad people... it's easy to justify...)

            Humans don't really change much. Although I do think the path to us getting better is recognising that, and that we're all human.

            (Ironically... morals do change... you only have to look back a hundred years to find vastly different views and moral outlooks...)

        2. Dinanziame Silver badge
          Holmes

          Re: the US are such hypocrites

          Okay... I'll bite... why is it morally wrong?

          I can't speak for the OP, but privacy rights is the most usual complaint. In some cases, when it involves secret technology, it can be considered theft. Just ask yourself what would be the problem if a private company was doing it for the money instead of a government.

          1. FIA Silver badge

            Re: the US are such hypocrites

            I can't speak for the OP, but privacy rights is the most usual complaint.

            But it's not the act of spying that's immoral, it's the intent behind it.

            I'm quite happy that the Allies had a network of spies in the second world war, but also consider industrial espionage as theft. Both 'spying', both morally different.

            1. Ian Johnston Silver badge

              Re: the US are such hypocrites

              I'm quite happy that the Allies had a network of spies in the second world war, but also consider industrial espionage as theft.

              How about 09 F9 11 02 9D 74 E3 5B D8 41 56 C5 63 56 88 C0?

        3. doublelayer Silver badge

          Re: the US are such hypocrites

          There are lots of moral explanations about why someone thinks it's bad or not. A lot of spies have their own moral justifications for why it's not a problem that they're doing it. They will, as all moral arguments are, be very subjective.

          Most of the time, it is considered an act whose morality depends on the purposes for which you're spying. This means that it isn't seen as a universally bad thing; spying on bad guys is good, and spying on good people is bad. This isn't that different from a number of actions that humans make moral judgements about. This also allows someone to defend their choice to spy by altering their definitions of "bad people".

          Of course, there are other ways to draw the line, some of which can look a bit crazy. I'm thinking of a novel I read years ago concerning a hunt for Nazi spies in the UK in 1940, the conclusion of which was that some spies were German by birth and some were British. One character commented that he respected the Germans for their determination, but had the utmost disrespect for the British because they had been disloyal to their country. I remember the statement so well because it always struck me as a really stupid way to look at the ethics of espionage; I would judge them equally badly since they were spying for immoral goals and would have judged them equally well had they been spying to disrupt those goals. Of course, this was a work of fiction, but morality by patriotism isn't only a fictional construct.

          1. Rol

            Re: the US are such hypocrites

            If they had taken time to get themselves a little better organised, they could have incorporated themselves, and set up a political "lobbying" company. They'd have been untouchable.

    2. Benegesserict Cumbersomberbatch Silver badge

      Re: the US are such hypocrites

      Everyone spies on everyone else. The Cambridge Five were caught because the US was spying on the UK.

      All governments deserve criticism. Would you rather be spied upon by a system where criticism of the government is a spectator sport or a capital offence?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: the US are such hypocrites

        Neither?

        That others do something bad as well has never been a viable defense, nor should it be one here.

        1. FIA Silver badge

          Re: the US are such hypocrites

          That others do something bad as well has never been a viable defense, nor should it be one here.

          If you genuinely mean that you would make no effort to find out what your 'opponents' are doing then I commend your moral fortitude.

          I also don't believe you.

          1. parlei Bronze badge

            Re: the US are such hypocrites

            I get the impression that it is actually a balance. If your opponents are confident that they know that you are (a) not actively preparing an imminent attack, but (b) quite capable of either repelling, or at least make it too costly to attack them, then any sane operator would refrain from starting a war. Of course you do not want them to know everything, because then they might figure out how to nullify your abilities to respond. So not perfect security for the low level stuff, but increasingly better for the truly critical stuff.

      2. PhilipN Silver badge

        Re: the US are such hypocrites

        In the context we are not talking about mere criticism. We are talking about treason which - cough cough - in the USA is indeed a capital offence.

    3. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      Comparing apple pie to mandarins

      To be equivalent, you would need to find some US citizens who emigrate to China, get citizenship there, join their military, swear their oath and accept their salary. If those citizens then sell Chinese secrets back to the US would you call the Chinese hypocrites for prosecuting those spies for espionage?

      1. fxkeh

        Re: Comparing apple pie to mandarins

        If this happened I'd expect the Chinese government to pay a little more attention to a foreign national who immediately wants to join the military tbh. Especially given how complicated and costly it is to gain citizenship, compared to the forces salary.

        Or maybe the US Government did pay attention and just waited for them to do the inevitable.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Comparing apple pie to mandarins

          "Or maybe the US Government did pay attention and just waited for them to do the inevitable."

          Good way to create a show (trial) to convince the masses

          1. FIA Silver badge

            Re: Comparing apple pie to mandarins

            Good way to create a show (trial) to convince the masses

            By catching and convicting criminals???

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Comparing apple pie to mandarins

              Go back to the post I replied to and quoted: "By *waiting* for them to do *the inevitable*"

              instead of stopping it happening as soon as they could instead of waiting, if it was inevitable.

              Because stopping someone from handing over military secrets is not as exciting a story, not as capable of raising the level of fear. Quite the opposite, if everyone is competent at stopping this happening, and for such low rewards, then the populace might start to relax.

              1. doublelayer Silver badge

                Re: Comparing apple pie to mandarins

                If the situation described actually occurred, where the government suspected that the exchange was to take place, then they could have provided fake data to exchange, thus demonstrating that the criminals were willing to complete the act and having a stronger case. That's not the first time such a thing has happened. For example, there was a guy who decided to steal sensitive information and sell it to Russia. He sent his invitation to the Russian embassy, which decided they didn't want to deal with this guy and called the FBI. The FBI created some convincing fake Russian agents to complete the deal and then arrested the criminals. So if this did happen, they would have prevented a risky exchange from happening. Of course, from the article, it sounds like they didn't know and something really did happen. That wouldn't have made a case where the investigators knew pre-crime a show trial.

    4. David Nash Silver badge

      Re: the US are such hypocrites

      Are you suggesting that because a country spies, they should not prosecute foreign spies they find working against them?

      We all know every country spies. They are not prosecuting them because "spying is bad", they are prosecuting them because they are spying against the USA, which, if you are the USA, is bad.

  3. martinusher Silver badge

    Silly people

    Congress has declared Open Season on anyone Chinese so the last think anyone of Chinese origin wants to be seen doing is appearing to hang out with 'foreign agents'. Its not as if there's any information worth learning -- its possible that a few nuggets could be gleaned but I doubt if the information would be worth the trouble.

  4. train_wreck
    Flame

    A minor burn

    Petty officer second class Zhao's alleged data theft began in August 2021 and lasted until at least May 2023, according to his indictment

    Some low key shade from the Reg right there.

    1. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: A minor burn

      I don't understand. Are you referring to the "Petty officer second class" part? Because that's a rank, a job title. The "petty officer" part means that he is a junior officer in the navy, superior to the average sailor but not high up in management, and the "second class" part further divides that group into subgroups, kind of like the various adjectives people put before the part of their job title that says what they really do so you know how important they're supposed to be.

      1. TimMaher Silver badge
        Headmaster

        Re: Superior to the average sailor.

        “Senior, sir, senior. Not superior.”

    2. OhForF' Silver badge

      Security clearance and pay grade

      Are you saying espionage is unlikely as a PO2 does not have access to any interesting information?

      I'm not all that familiar with US ranks and pay grades but i remember that an airman first class posted secret stuff on discord and from what i find on wikipedia that is two pay grades lower (A1C -> E3 and PO2 -> E5).

      Junior status doesn't mean no access to sensitive information.

      Even the cleaning staff has unsupervised access to anything unlocked in the office and the contents of the bin.

      1. Jonathan Richards 1
        Stop

        Re: Security clearance and pay grade

        > anything unlocked in the office and the contents of the bin

        Which is why last officer leaving the room signs to say that everything is locked, and the bin contains only shreddings. Interview without coffee follows swiftly if those things turn out not to be the case during nightly rounds - please refrain from asking me how I know.

  5. BebopWeBop
    Facepalm

    Wei allegedly told a fellow sailor he was being recruited by Beijing for what he described as "quite obviously fucking espionage."

    They don't recruit the brightest do they? I thought the first rule of spy club was.....

  6. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

    held a US security clearance

    --------------> see icon

    I would assume that ALL military employees have some level of security clearance. Without specifying the level, that's pretty meaningless.

  7. Securitymoose
    Facepalm

    Best spies ever

    Didn't think that their names would give the game away? Even the internet scammers and 'support' folks have the decency to call themselves Pete or Steve or Victoria.

  8. ritmo2k

    "Our nation's safety and security are in their hands. When a soldier or sailor chooses cash over country, and hands over national defense information in an ultimate act of betrayal, the United States will aggressively investigate and prosecute."

    Wow, sounds like 3/4 of Congress, and they are not considered traitors.

    1. aerogems Silver badge

      Have been saying something similar for a while. Anyone who was active or retired military who was involved in Jan 6 and actually went inside the Capitol building or skirmished with the Capitol police, should be recalled to active duty and then immediately court martialed, busted down to the lowest rank in that service branch, and then dishonorable discharged maybe after some time in the brig. They swore an oath to protect this country from threats foreign and domestic, and they then became a threat to the country. In no way, shape, or form should taxpayers be paying for their VA benefits and any military pensions when they turned traitor to their country.

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