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Two More Chinese Nationals Arrested for Photographing NAS Key West

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Sunset at NAS Key West, June 25, 2019 (USN)

By The Maritime Executive 01-10-2020 10:11:00

Key West, Florida is a popular destination for people from all over the world, but Naval Air Station Key West appears to be attracting a particular kind of visitor: Over the past 18 months, four Chinese civilians have been arrested for taking photographs of the base's facilities. 

The latest incident occurred Saturday morning, when two Chinese nationals - named as Yuhao Wang and Jielun Zhang - entered NAS Key West's Sigsbee Annex after allegedly ignoring the instructions of the master-at-arms at the gate. The guard told them to turn around and depart, according to the FBI, but they drove past and into the base instead. It took another half an hour for base security to track down the errant visitors and question them. When questioned, both Zhang and Wang were found to be in possession of electronic devices containing photos of the buildings within the base, the FBI said in an affadavit filed this week. 

Zhang had also allegedly taken photos of buildings on Fleming Key - a restricted area that is home to the United States Army Special Forces Underwater Operations Training Center.

Zhang, 24, is a student at the University of Michigan. As multiple individuals with the name of Yuhao Wang are enrolled, a spokesperson for the school could not immediately confirm the second suspect's affiliation.

Last month, another Chinese national, Lyuyou Liao, 27, was charged with unlawfully photographing NAS Key West from around the perimeter fence. Liao told investigators that he was attempting to photograph the sunset. On December 26, Liao was charged with illegally photographing a defense installation, and he is being held without bail. 

In September 2018, Chinese student Zhao Qianli, 20, was arrested by local police for taking photos of base facilities, including an antenna site and several government buildings. He pleaded guilty to a single charge of photographing defense installations and was sentenced to one year in prison. 

While the incidents at NAS Key West are relatively minor compared with the massive Chinese cyber-espionage efforts targeting the U.S. Navy, they may be part of a broader pattern. The U.S. Navy has identified a broad, systematic Chinese effort to steal maritime R&D secrets, and FBI Director Christopher Wray has named China as the United States' most serious espionage threat overall. “There is no country that poses a more severe counterintelligence threat to this country right now than China,” Wray said in a Senate hearing last year. “That’s saying a lot, and I don’t say it lightly.”-