The sailors accused of spying for China were being held without bail


Two Navy sailors accused of spying for China were denied bail during detention hearings in California on Tuesday.

The two men appeared in court days after they were arrested and accused of surreptitiously passing sensitive government information to foreign officials.

Jinchao “Patrick” Wei, a petty officer second class, was arrested Wednesday and charged with espionage — more specifically, conspiracy to transmit and committing defense information in aid of a foreign government.

Petty Officer Wenheng Zhao, of Monterey Park, Calif., was also arrested Wednesday by FBI and NCIS agents and charged with conspiracy and receiving a bribe by a public servant.

Bail was denied for Chow during his detention hearing Tuesday morning in Los Angeles. The judge said he was considered a flight risk and a danger to society while ordering his detention. His defense attorney, Richard Goldman, told the court that there were indications that Zhao believed he was dealing with an investment client, rather than a client of China.

Hours later, Wei was also denied bail in court in San Diego, with the judge similarly ruling him a danger to society and a danger to flight. His defense attorney, Jason Conforte, said Wei did not pose a threat to the community and “no longer had access to the information”.

The two men appeared for the first time on Thursday, and both pleaded not guilty to the charges. Wei is scheduled to appear in court on August 21, while Zhao’s next court date is scheduled for September 26.

Lawyers for the two men did not respond to requests for comment.

What the plaintiffs allege the sailors did

According to the indictment against him, Wei, 22, worked as a mechanic’s mate on the amphibious ship USS Essex, which was recently receiving maintenance at Naval Base San Diego.

Officials said last week that Chow, 26, was working at the Ventura County Naval Base in Port Hueneme and had an active US security clearance allowing him access to classified information.

Both Zhao and Wei are accused of passing national defense information to Chinese intelligence officials in return for cash payments, although their cases are separate.

The indictments allege that they worked with Chinese intelligence officers who passed them sensitive information about the technologies they worked with and about upcoming naval operations, including international military exercises.

Zhao’s indictment states that he accessed material classified as classified, as did Wei, who was born in China and became a US citizen in 2022 as he was also allegedly sending information to his handler, according to the indictment.

Stock image: US Naval Academy

US Naval Academy

Stock Images/Getty Images

“Through the alleged crimes committed by these defendants, sensitive military information has ended up in the hands of the People’s Republic of China,” Matthew Olsen, the Justice Department’s assistant attorney general for national security affairs, said at a news conference in San Diego last week.

Accusations appear [China’s] Olsen continued: “Determination to obtain information important to our national defense by any means so that it can be used to their advantage.” “The alleged conduct also constitutes a violation of the solemn obligation of our military personnel to defend our country to protect our secrets and to protect fellow service members.”

China has not commented after the arrests of Wei and Zhao last week, but it generally denies involvement in overseas espionage.

US officials said Wei began communicating with a Chinese government intelligence officer in February 2022 who assigned him to pass on photos, videos and documents related to US Navy ships and systems.

Wei allegedly passed photos of the USS Essex, provided the locations of various Navy ships and provided clues to the systems aboard his and other Navy ships.

And in June 2022, Wei obtained $5,000 from the Chinese intelligence official after passing on the first batch of that evidence, the officials alleged.

Zhao allegedly began working with a Chinese intelligence official in August 2021 and continued to do so until at least May this year, according to the indictment. He worked as a construction electrician.

He passed photos, videos and schematics of a radar system in Okinawa and operational plans for a “large-scale” US military exercise in the Pacific, the officials allege in the indictment.

In exchange for this information, the indictment against Zhao alleges that he received about $14,866 in payments from the Chinese intelligence officer.

Martin Estrada, the US Attorney for the Central District of California, said Thursday that Chau “betrayed his sacred oath to defend our country” and “sold out his fellow US Navy SEALs.”

“The case against Mr. Zhao is part of a larger national strategy to combat the criminal efforts of nation-state actors to steal sensitive military information for our country,” Estrada said.

“We take allegations of misconduct very seriously, and the Navy is cooperating with the Department of Justice,” a Navy spokesperson said in a statement last week about Wei and Chow. The spokesman referred other questions to the public prosecution.

ABC News’ Alexandra Hutzler, Denise Boone, Alex Stone and Maria Villalobos contributed to this report.

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