Former US soldier arrested for helping Chinese spies

Joseph Schmidt, 29, had Top Secret clearance and allegedly contacted Chinese officials to pass on military secrets.
By Alex Willemyns for RFA
2023.10.06
Washington
Former US soldier arrested for helping Chinese spies At left, the indictment against former U.S. Army Sgt. Joseph Schmidt. At right are directions from Beijing Daxing airport to China’s Ministry of State Security that Schmidt looked up while in Turkey in 2020, according to a separate filing made by FBI investigator Brandon Tower. The Google Maps screenshot was recovered from Schmidt’s iCloud account.
U.S. Department of Justice

A 29-year-old former American soldier was arrested at San Francisco International Airport on Friday and charged with passing on military secrets to Chinese spies, according to the U.S. Justice Department.

Joseph Schmidt was a soldier working in human intelligence from January 2015 to January 2020 and was based in Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state, according to a statement. It says he had “Top Secret” clearance that continued after leaving the role.

“After his separation from the military, Schmidt allegedly reached out to the Chinese Consulate in Turkey and later the Chinese security services via email, offering information about national defense information,” the Justice Department statement says. 

“In March 2020, Schmidt traveled to Hong Kong and allegedly continued his efforts to provide Chinese intelligence with classified information he obtained from his military service,” it says.

He “retained a device that allows for access to secure military computer networks,” it adds, and “offered the device to Chinese authorities to assist them in efforts to gain access to such networks.”

Schmidt remained in China for the past three years, before returning to San Francisco. He faces up to 10 years in prison if found guilty. 

Tessa Gorman, the acting U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington state, said in the statement that Schmidt had sworn an oath to “defend our country” and had violated that in his actions.

“[T]he 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,” she said.

‘Exceptionally grave’

A separate filing made by Brandon Tower, the FBI investigator on Schmidt’s case, notes that the “Top Secret” classification is only given to information that “could be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security” if released publicly.

It says Schmidt was a team leader in human intelligence covering the Indo-Pacific region and reached the rank of army sergeant before leaving the service in 2020. It says he then departed for Beijing six days after ending his service and then traveled onward to Turkey.

The filing details an email he allegedly sent to the Chinese Consulate in Istanbul on Feb. 24, 2020, a month after he left the United States.

“I also am trying to share information I learned during my career as an interrogator with the Chinese government. 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,” the email says.

“My experience includes training in interrogation, running sources as a spy handler, surveillance detection, and other advanced psychological operation strategies,” it says. 

It also documents a number of Google searches allegedly performed by Schmidt, including: “soldier defect,” “chinese consulate,” “iranian embassy,” “what is china's intelligence agency,” “countries that dont extradite” and “can you be extradited for treason.”

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