A former US Army soldier has been arrested and charged with two felonies over alleged attempts to deliver national defense information to the Chinese Communist Party, as well as illegal retention of national defense information following his exit from the service.
Joseph Schmidt, a former Sergeant, was arrested at San Francisco International Airport on Friday after a grand jury indicted him on Wednesday.
Schmidt, who served as a team leader of an Army human intelligence squad supporting US espionage in the Indo-Pacific, is accused of attempting to spy for China following his departure from the service in February 2020.
The “shocking” plot includes allegations that Schmidt’s search history includes “can you be extradited for treason?”
During a trip to Istanbul the same month he left the military, Schmidt made nearly 30 Google searches related to defection and spilling military secrets, ranging from “countries with most negative relations with US” to “what is China’s intelligence agency?” and “soldier defect,” according to an FBI investigative report.
Other search terms included “subreddit spying” and “looking for a subreddit about spy stuff.”
Schmidt also queried Google Maps for driving directions from Beijing’s airport to the headquarters of China’s Ministry of State Security, which has a similar role to the CIA.
On Feb. 24, 2020, Schmidt sent a message to the Chinese Consulate in Istanbul requesting a meeting, calling himself a United States citizen looking to move to China.”
“I also am trying to share information I learned during my career as an interrogator with the Chinese government,” he wrote. –NY Post
“I have a current top-secret clearance, and would like to talk to someone from the Government to share this information with you if that is possible,” Schmidt wrote.
“Individuals entrusted with national defense information have a continuing duty to protect that information beyond their government service and certainly beyond our borders,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security Matthew Olsen in a prepared statement.
“The National Security Division is committed to identifying and holding accountable those who violate that duty.”
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Mr. Schmidt served in the Army for five years, ending his service in 2020.
His primary active-duty assignment was at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state, where he served in the 109th Military Intelligence Battalion. He was given access to Secret and Top Secret information in his role there.
After separating from the military, Mr. Schmidt is alleged to have illegally held onto classified intelligence about national defense matters that he had obtained as part of his duties. Mr. Schmidt then allegedly reached out to the Chinese consulate in Turkey and then through email to Chinese security services and offered the information to the regime.
“As alleged by the government, Schmidt betrayed his promise and potentially placed our nation at risk in his attempts to pass national defense information to Chinese security services,” said FBI Assistant Director of Counterintelligence Suzanne Turner.
“The FBI and our partners remain steadfast in our commitment to protecting the American people and U.S. national security.”
Two months after Mr. Schmidt’s separation from the Army, he traveled to Hong Kong where he allegedly told Chinese security services that he had access to a device that could access the United States’ secure military computer networks. It is alleged Mr. Schmidt offered to provide this device to the regime.
Mr. Schmidt has resided in Hong Kong since 2020, but was arrested upon flying into San Francisco this week.
“Members of our military take a sworn oath to defend our country and the Constitution,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Tessa Gorman.
“In that context the alleged actions of this former military member are shocking, not only attempting to provide national defense information, but also information that would assist a foreign adversary to gain access to Department of Defense secure computer networks.”
Both of the alleged crimes are punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.