By: Micaela Burrow, Daily Caller News Foundation
A U.S. Navy sailor arrested Thursday was pressured to illegally funnel U.S. military secrets to China by his mother, who argued agreeing to the espionage arrangement would help him get a job with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), The Associated Press reported, citing the prosecution.
Jintao Wei, 22, pleaded not guilty to charges under the Espionage Act that he shared materials about U.S. Navy ships with a Chinese intelligence officer while an active duty sailor on the U.S.S. Essex stationed at Naval Base San Diego, according to the AP. At a federal hearing Tuesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Fred Sheppard urged the judge to keep Wei in custody by arguing that a Chinese intelligence officer offered to fly Wei and his mother to China on Beijing’s dime and that Wei had searched for flights to China this past spring.
Wei is one of two sailors arrested last week for on charges relating to stealing critical, classified defense information related to U.S. military activities in the Indo-Pacific and sharing them with individuals acting as intelligence agents for China, according to the Department of Justice. Wei is accused of transmitting photos, videos and documents about Navy ships, included technical manuals, descriptions of warships’ defensive capabilities, the locations of various Navy ships and the weapons U.S. Marines used during an exercise in the Pacific, the indictment says.
Around Feb. 22, 2022, the intelligence officer asked Wei to provide information about the maintenance cycle on U.S. Navy ships, according to the indictment. Wei expressed uncertainty at first, worrying that such activities would be perceived as spying and could derail his ongoing application for U.S. citizenship, the indictment alleges.
Wei’s mother was aware of his spying activities at least by the time Wei visited her Wisconsin home for Christmas that year, prosecutor Sheppard alleged, the AP reported. Sheppard said the mother encouraged him to continue spying in hopes of currying favor with the CCP to help him find work with the party once he leaves the Navy and returns to China.
Jason Conforti, who represents the accused, did not respond to the AP or the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.
Wei received thousands of dollars in return for his espionage, although the indictment did not make clear the exact amount. Sheppard said the total reached between $10,000 and $15,000.
The intelligence officer also instructed Wei to purchase a laptop and phone to pass on the information securely, and that the Chinese government would reimburse the expenses.
Conforti said Wei no longer has access to defense secrets and is therefore not a danger, urging the court to waive detention, the AP reported. But Sheppard said Wei’s actions potentially put thousands of sailors at risk by revealing sensitive technical information and details on Navy and Marine Corps operations, and the judge ruled to keep Wei in custody without bond.