3 Chinese Nationals Sentenced to Prison for Taking Photos at US Navy Base

June 5, 2020 Updated: June 5, 2020

Three Chinese nationals were sentenced to prison on June 4 for trespassing and taking photos of a U.S. Navy base in Florida.

Liao Lyuyou, 27, was sentenced to 12 months in prison after pleading guilty to illegally entering the Naval Air Station (NAS) Key West in December 2019, and taking photos and video of military installations, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office in the Southern District of Florida.

In a separate case, Zhang Jielun, 25, and Wang Yuhao, 24, were sentenced to 12 months and nine months in prison respectively. Both men pleaded guilty to illegally entering the same naval air station on Jan. 4. They also took photos of military infrastructure, prosecutors said.

In December, Liao was arrested for illegally taking pictures at an annex of NAS Key West.

According to court records, witnesses observed Liao walking along the secure fence line of the military base. The fence had “numerous warnings posted” on it, documents said. He walked around the perimeter fence and entered the facility from the rocks along the water. Despite witnesses’ “numerous warnings” against trespassing, Liao proceeded to enter and took multiple photos with his camera. Liao later told officials that he can read and understand English better than he can speak it.

When U.S. military police came to question Liao a few minutes later, Liao explained in broken English that he was “trying to take photographs of the sunrise,” according to court documents. The officers, however, found photographs of the restricted Truman Annex area on his camera. This included images of vital military equipment, prosecutors said.

Less than two weeks later, Wang and Zhang were arrested after they drove onto the naval air station and took pictures. Court documents said they drove to a guard station at an entrance to the Sigsbee Annex within the base, and were asked to provide military identification, which they did not have. They were then told they weren’t authorized to enter, but they proceeded anyway, documents said.

After 30 minutes in the restricted area, the pair were apprehended by Navy security personnel, who found that they had taken photos of military structures on the base, court documents show. They also took videos with their cellphones.

Wang and Zhang, according to the documents, told FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) agents they read and understood English, and acknowledged that they were asked to make a U-turn when they couldn’t provide military identification, but continued driving.

Previous Case

Another Chinese national was sentenced in February 2019 for taking pictures at NAS Key West.

Zhao Qianli, then a 20-year-old from China’s Shanxi Province, was arrested in September 2018 for illegally taking photos of the same Navy base and surrounding military facilities.

According to a court document, Zhao walked directly toward the Joint Interagency Task Force South Antenna Field and took multiple photographs with his phone, as well as a camera. Investigators found that Zhao also photographed the restricted warning signs.

Zhao told investigators at the time that he was “lost” and that he was a “dishwasher from New Jersey,” but later claimed he was a music student at a Chinese university during a December 2018 debriefing.

At the hotel where Zhao was staying, FBI officials also found a police shirt and belt buckle that belonged to a Chinese government ministry, court records said. Zhao said he had obtained the items from his father, who wanted him to “have nice clothes” while in the United States.

Zhao was sentenced in February 2019 to a year in federal prison after pleading guilty to photographing defense installations.

In December 2019, The New York Times reported that the U.S. government secretly expelled two Chinese embassy officials who allegedly drove onto a “sensitive” military base in Virginia.

The two were accompanied by their wives as they drove through the entry checkpoint of the base despite being denied permission, evading military personnel who pursued them. The Times, citing officials with knowledge of the expulsion, said U.S. officials believe at least one of the Chinese officials was an intelligence officer operating under diplomatic cover.

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