Joseph Daniel Schmidt was arrested on October 6 on charges that the former United States Army intelligence officer attempted to provide the Chinese government with classified information. Schmidt served with the 109th Military Intelligence Battalion at Joint Base Lewis-McChord between 2015 and 2020.
Prosecutors allege that Schmidt attempted to make contact with Chinese officials via email using an unsecured method after separating from the Army. Schmidt is said to have sent a letter to his sister after leaving the U.S. in 2020, explaining that his decision was motivated by having “learned some really terrible things about the American government while I was working in the Army, and I no longer feel safe living in America” according to court records.
The FBI arrested him at the San Francisco International Airport as he arrived from Hong Kong- the Justice Department said he handed over national defense secrets to Chinese spies. #NationalSecurity#FBI #DOJ #Espionage#SanFranciscohttps://t.co/uHxN7clJt3
— Robert Morton (@Robert4787) October 8, 2023
Among the evidence investigators gathered against Schmidt are a number of Word documents saved to an iCloud account that detail the types of information he desired to share. Military inspectors have said that at least some of the information was top secret.
Schmidt had been living in China outside the reach of American law enforcement but was arrested after arriving in San Francisco. Authorities have not said what motivated Schmidt to return to the country or if Chinese officials were ever receptive to accepting his information.
Schmidt faces ten years for each count against him, though the exact charges have yet to be made public. He faces at least one count of espionage.
Schmidt held a high-security clearance when with the Army and was in a position to understand how espionage works. Curiously, the former intelligence officer searched articles on Reddit titled “What Do Real Spies Do and How are they Recruited,” and “Espionage.” He attempted to communicate using public email addresses and Googled “Can you be extradited for treason?”
The lapses in basic security led investigators to identify Schmidt. Much of the evidence against him includes emails and Word documents he is said to have created. Investigators also tracked Schmidt’s cell phone and identified that he may have met with Chinese officials near a major government building after offering secrets.
According to research from the Cato Institute, about 1,485 spies in America between 1990 and 2019. Cases of treason are much more rare. There are fewer than a dozen cases of treason prosecutions in U.S. history. Aaron Burr -who attempted to convince a number of states to cede from the Union, and Jefferson Davis, the leader of the Confederacy during the Civil War both faced charges of treason.
In August 2023, two U.S. Navy members were arrested on charges of sending sensitive information to China. The two separate cases involve efforts by Chinese intelligence agencies to gain access to information such as the weapons and defensive systems on naval ships and schematics on radar installations on military bases.