Two US Navy sailors were charged with leaking sensitive military information to China on Thursday (August 3) including details on naval operations.
The two sailors, both based in California, were charged with similar moves to provide sensitive intelligence to the Chinese. But they were separate cases, and it was not clear if the two were courted or paid by the same Chinese intelligence officer as part of a larger scheme.
The federal officials did not specify if the sailors were aware of each other’s actions. Both pleaded not guilty in the courts in San Diego and Los Angeles.
They were ordered to be held till their detention hearings are not heard which will take place on August 8 in the same cities.
The US officials have expressed their concerns for years about the espionage threat, according to them, the Chinese government poses, bringing criminal cases in recent years against Beijing intelligence operatives who have stolen sensitive government and commercial information.
In April, the Justice Department arrested a Massachusetts Air National Guardsman on charges of leaking classified military documents about Russia's war in Ukraine and other sensitive national security issues.
US officials said the cases exemplify China's brazenness in trying to obtain insight into US military operations.
"Through the alleged crimes committed by these defendants, sensitive military information ended up in the hands of the People's Republic of China," said US Attorney Randy Grossman for the Southern District of California.
Jinchao Wei, a 22-year-old sailor assigned to the San Diego-based USS Essex, was arrested on Wednesday while boarding the ship.
He is accused of passing detailed information on the weapons systems and aircraft aboard the Essex and other amphibious assault ships that act as small aircraft carriers.
Prosecutors said Wei, who was born in China, was approached by a Chinese intelligence officer in February 2022 while he was applying to become a naturalised US citizen, and admitted to the officer that he knew the arrangement could affect his application.
(With AP inputs)