Three Chinese nationals were sentenced to prison on Friday after pleading guilty to taking illegal photographs of military installations at the U.S. Naval Air Station located on Boca Chica Key in Key West, Florida.
The Justice Department said Lyuyou Liao , 27, was sentenced to one year in prison followed by one year of supervised release for illegally entering the military installation on Dec. 26, 2019, and taking photographs and video footage of property on the Truman Annex of the station, including nabbing images of vital military equipment.
In a separate case, Jielun Zhang , 25, and Yuhao Wang , 24, were sentenced to one year and nine months in prison, respectively, followed by one year of supervised release, for illegally entering the station just over a week later on Jan. 4 and taking photographs of military and naval infrastructure located on the Sigsbee Park and Trumbo Point Annexes.
U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida Ariana Fajardo Orshan, FBI special-agent-in-charge George Piro, and the FBI’s Miami Field Office announced the sentences for the three foreign nationals from the People’s Republic of China. Fajardo Orshan commended “the investigative efforts of the FBI and the South Florida Joint Terrorism Task Force” and “the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, and the Key West Police Department for their assistance.”
The FBI affidavit in the criminal complaint against Liao said that on an early morning in late December, the Chinese national was observed by witnesses walking along the secure fence line of the Key West military installation, ignoring the warning signs of “U.S. Government Property — No Trespassing” and “NASKW Warning Restricted Area Keep Out Authorized Personnel Only.” Multiple witnesses “verbally warned” him not to go into the restricted area, but he did so anyway, and they then observed him taking pictures, including images of “government buildings within the vicinity of sensitive military facilities.” Military police approached Liao, and he told them that “he was trying to take photographs of the sunrise.” He let the police check his phone, and they found pictures of base buildings on it.
An NCIS agent soon arrived and read Liao his Miranda rights, and he waived those rights and talked to the agent, again repeating that he was trying to take sunrise photos. He gave the agent the passcode to his cellphone, and the NCIS spotted the sensitive pictures. Liao was then transferred to the custody of the Key West Police Department, where he was arrested and charged with criminal trespass.
Another FBI affidavit in the criminal complaint against Zhang and Wang shows that just over a week later on an early January morning, the two Chinese citizens drove their Hyundai up to a guard station at the Key West installation, where the U.S. Navy Security Forces master-at-arms told them they didn’t have proper identification and needed to make a U-turn. The duo ignored the security warning and drove onto the restricted property anyway, and the master-at-arms sent Navy Security Forces to locate the vehicle, which they did after roughly half an hour.
When the Navy Security Forces approached Wang and Zhang, both had cellphones, and Zhang also had a Nikon camera. The two Chinese nationals allowed the security forces to look at the pictures, which “included U.S. military structures on Fleming Key.” FBI agents then spoke to the two of them, and they both admitted they ignored the instructions from the master-at-arms and had taken pictures and videos of the installation.
Similar criminal cases have sprung up recently.
In September, a Chinese woman named Yujing Zhang was convicted of one count of trespassing and one count of lying to a federal agent after being accused of trespassing at President Trump’s Florida resort and lying about why she was there. She was sentenced to eight months in prison in November.
In September 2018, Chinese student Zhao Qianli was arrested when he was found photographing an American defense intelligence installation near Key West, Florida. The student had gone around a fence that stopped at the ocean and walked onto the base to take photos, including an area with satellite dishes and antennae. After pleading guilty to one count of photographing defense installations, he was sentenced to a year in prison in February 2019.
The New York Times reported in December that the U.S. government “secretly expelled” two Chinese Embassy officials after they breached a sensitive military base in Virginia. The Chinese officials were with their wives when they drove onto the base near Norfolk, Virginia, in September, and the group fled military personnel pursuing them and were only stopped when fire trucks blocked their path. U.S. officials suspect at least one of the Chinese officials was an intelligence officer operating under diplomatic cover.
The expulsions appeared to be the first of Chinese diplomats suspected of spying in more than three decades. Back in 1987, the Reagan administration apprehended and expelled two Chinese diplomats from Washington after a yearlong FBI espionage investigation and after the two tried to obtain classified National Security Agency documents.
The Justice Department’s China Initiative was established in 2018, and the agency has recently brought a large number of cases against Chinese nationals suspected of academic research malfeasance and of working for the Chinese Communist Party’s Thousand Talents program.
The Justice Department unveiled a superseding indictment against Huawei in February, charging the Chinese telecommunications giant with racketeering and conspiracy to steal trade secrets. The 16-count indictment charged Huawei and its U.S.-based subsidiaries with conspiracy to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. The Justice Department pointed to the company’s “long-running practice of using fraud and deception to misappropriate sophisticated technology from U.S. counterparts” and revealed new claims about Huawei’s deceptive efforts to evade U.S., European Union, and United Nations sanctions when doing business in North Korea and Iran.
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