The USS Essex is shown in a Sept. 27, 2018 photo. One of two men charged with spying for China this week was assigned to the San Diego-based USS Essex, and was arrested Wednesday while boarding the ship. (Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Matthew Freeman/U.S. Navy/Getty Images)

2 U.S. Navy sailors arrested and accused of spying for China

The USS Essex is shown in a Sept. 27, 2018 photo. One of two men charged with spying for China this week was assigned to the San Diego-based USS Essex, and was arrested Wednesday while boarding the ship. (Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Matthew Freeman/U.S. Navy/Getty Images)

Two U.S. Navy sailors were charged Thursday with providing sensitive military information to China — including details on wartime exercises, naval operations and critical technical material.

Both men pleaded not guilty in federal courts in San Diego and Los Angeles. They were ordered to be held until their detention hearings, which will take place Aug. 8 in those same cities.

U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman for the Southern District of California said the charges reflect that China “stands apart in terms of the threat that its government poses to the United States. China is unrivaled in its audacity and the range of its maligned efforts to subvert our laws.”

The cases are separate, and it wasn’t clear if the two were courted or paid by the same Chinese intelligence officer as part of a larger scheme. Federal officials at a news conference in San Diego declined to specify whether the sailors were aware of each other’s actions.

Year-long scheme alleged in Espionage Act charges

Jinchao Wei, a 22-year-old sailor assigned to the San Diego-based USS Essex, was arrested 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 naturalized U.S. citizen, and admitted to the officer that he knew the arrangement could affect his application. Even so, at the officer’s request, Wei provided photographs and videos of Navy ships, including the USS Essex, which can carry an array of helicopters, including the MV-22 Ospreys, according to an indictment unsealed Thursday.

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