Navy Chief Petty Officer Convicted of Attempted Espionage at San Diego Court-Martial

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Higgins
The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Higgins arrives at Commander, Fleet Activities Yokosuka, Japan Aug. 16, 2021. (U.S. Navy photo by Ryo Isobe)

The Navy has convicted a chief petty officer of attempted espionage, among other charges, at a court-martial in San Diego after the sailor was charged with sharing classified documents under the guise of writing research papers.

The Naval Criminal Investigative Service said in a press release Friday that, following a seven-day trial, Chief Petty Officer Bryce Pedicini, who was previously assigned to the USS Higgins, was found guilty at a general court-martial of attempted espionage, failure to obey a lawful order, and attempted violation of a lawful general order.

The conviction comes at a time when a growing number of sailors appear to be falling for Chinese efforts to recruit spies and obtain classified information and, while it is not known what country Pedicini tried to spy for, he is at least the third sailor in about a year to face espionage-related charges.

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Pedicini is set to be sentenced by a military judge on May 7, according to NCIS.

Charging documents released by the Navy showed that Pedicini was accused of delivering two sets of classified national defense documents -- referred to as "Article 1112" and "Article 1223" in the legal paperwork -- to "a citizen and employee of a foreign government" between November 2022 and February 2023 in Hampton Roads, Virginia.

The charging documents go on to say that the pair of articles were made up of several sections and Pedicini delivered them both over several instances.

In its statement, NCIS said that "Pedicini engaged with the foreign government representative under the guise of writing research papers" and noted that this is "a tactic increasingly used by foreign adversaries to obtain classified and unclassified national defense information."

The charging documents also say that Pedicini provided "images of a [secret-level classification] computer screen to a citizen and employee of a foreign government" in mid-May in Yokosuka, Japan.

Yokosuka is the Japanese city just outside of Tokyo that hosts a U.S. Navy base as well as Pedicini's former ship, the Higgins.

According to records provided by the Navy, Pedicini is originally from Tennessee and enlisted in the service in 2008. His awards include a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, three Good Conduct Medals, and two Sea Service Deployment Ribbons.

NCIS Director Omar Lopez said in the statement that "this guilty verdict holds Mr. Pedicini to account for his betrayal of his country and fellow service members" and that "although the overwhelming majority of Department of the Navy service members are honorable and faithful public servants, NCIS stands ready to expose those who are not."

In August, the Department of Justice announced that Petty Officer Second Class Wenheng Zhao -- who went by the name Thomas Zhao -- was arrested for transmitting sensitive U.S. military information to a Chinese intelligence officer. Zhao had sent more than 50 technical and mechanical manuals for various systems of the USS Essex and similar ships to his Chinese handlers, court documents said.

Zhao was sentenced to just over two years in federal prison in January.

In the same August announcement, the Justice Department also said it had arrested and charged Jinchao Wei, a machinist's mate who was also assigned to the Essex, and charged him with multiple counts of conspiring and sending defense information to a foreign citizen.

Wei's trial is currently set to begin in December, according to court records.

Court records claim that both sailors received thousands of dollars for their activities and that Wei even "boasted that while other U.S. Navy sailors were driving cabs to make extra money, all he had to do was leak secrets."

Related: Trial of Navy Chief Petty Officer Accused of Espionage Kicks Off in San Diego

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