Monterey Park Navy sailor pleads guilty to sending military secrets to China

This photo reviewed by the US military shows the United States Department of the Navy emblem hanging on a wall at the Joint Detention Forces Headquarters at Guantanamo Bay US Naval Base, Cuba, April 09, 2014. (Photo credit should read MLADEN ANTONOV/

A Monterey Park man and U.S. Navy sailor based out of the base in Port Hueneme has pleaded guilty to sending military secrets to China in exchange for bribes, the Justice Department announced Tuesday.

Petty Officer Wenheng "Thomas" Zhao, 26, has been in custody since he was arrested on Aug. 3. He recently pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring with a Chinese intelligence officer and one count of receiving a bribe. 

Zhao worked at Naval Base Ventura County and had a security clearance. According to the plea agreement, Zhao spent between about two years — at least between August 2021 and May 2023 — sending military secrets to that Chinese officer in exchange for just under $15,000 in bribes.

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According to the DOJ, Zhao specifically admitted to sending plans for a large-scale military training exercise in the Pacific, operational orders, and diagrams and blueprints for a radar system on the Japanese island of Okinawa. 

"Mr. Zhao’s admission makes it clear that he abandoned the oath he swore to uphold by providing sensitive information to a U.S. adversary in exchange for cash," said Donald Alway, the Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office. "Zhao put his fellow servicemen at risk when he yielded to overtures from the Chinese government, a nation actively targeting Americans who have access to state secrets. I’m proud of the strong partnerships and hard work that resulted in today’s successful outcome."

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"The swift action by the Department of Justice in prosecuting this case should serve as a warning to anyone who willingly or through willful negligence attempt to compromise the Department of the Navy’s sensitive information or the security of our warfighters," said A.D. Cruz Jr., Acting Special Agent in Charge of Naval Criminal Investigative Service, Office of Special Projects. "No matter how long it takes, we will find you and hold you to account. To those still working to assist our adversaries, find your nearest NCIS or FBI office and cooperate before we come for you."

Zhao is scheduled for sentencing on Jan. 8, 2024. He faces a maximum of 20 years in federal prison.