A former service member of the U.S. Navy who sold secrets to China received a jail sentence of only a little more than two years this week.
Wenheng Zhao, a former petty officer in the Navy, will spend only 27 months behind bars after pleading guilty to receiving a bribe and conspiring with an intelligence officer. He must also pay a fine of $5,500.
The maximum sentence for each of those charges was five years and 15 years in jail, respectively.
The Department of Justice tried to put a positive spin on the situation, saying Zhao was “being held to account” for his crimes.
“The Justice Department is committed to combating the Chinese government’s efforts to undermine our nation’s security and holding accountable those who violate our laws as part of those efforts,” Matthew Olsen, an assistant attorney general, said recently.
While the sentence was just announced this week, the DOJ has already received significant criticism for the leniency of the sentence.
Wenheng Zhao, a #USNavy officer, received only 27 months for selling secrets to #China: https://t.co/YX26R01BHQ. We should be handing out at least life sentences for those selling out our country to the #CCP.
— Gordon G. Chang (@GordonGChang) January 9, 2024
Zhao had security clearance when he was working at Naval Base Ventura County in California. Between August 2021 and May 2023, the DOJ alleges that Zhao received bribes from an intelligence officer in China.
He received just shy of $15,000 for sending the officer information about U.S. Navy exercises, critical infrastructure, military trainings, operational security and more.
Some of the information turned over to the Chinese official included plans regarding a “large-scale training exercise” to be held in the Pacific region, as well as information about the Ground/Air Task Oriented Radar system in Japan.
To get that information, DOJ officials said Zhao entered restricted locations at the base.
Zhao was arrested last August and then pleaded guilty in early October to the charges levied against him as part of a plea deal negotiated with the DOJ.
Around the same time that Zhao was arrested, so, too, was another former Navy sailor, Jinchao Wei, who was accused of a similar plot to sell secrets to China.
Wei served on the USS Essex, based in San Diego, and gave Chinese officials detailed information regarding the ship as well as its crew.