By Jack Davis
A Chinese national has been sentenced to one year in prison for taking pictures inside the Key West Naval Air Station.
Zhao Qianli, 20, pleaded guilty Tuesday to one count of photographing defense installations, the Miami Herald reported. Other charges in the indictment against him were dropped.
Zhao did not express remorse for his actions in court, insisting he was simply a musicology student taking pictures on vacation.
He said he came to the United States the previous summer for an exchange program, then traveled to Key West after completing his studies. When he was arrested on Sept. 26, he insisted he had lost his way and did not realize he had stumbled upon the sprawling military facility.
Federal prosecutor Michael Sherwin said there was nothing accidental about Zhao’s entry. In fact, Sherwin said Zhao waded into water fully clothed to evade a security fence.
“The fence line Zhao Qianli circumvented had numerous warnings that noted the fenced facility was a ‘military installation’ and ‘Restricted Area’ warning signs posted on the beach,” the complaint against him read.
Photographs on Zhao’s phone and camera also showed that he was not an average tourist, Sherwin said.
“The primary pictures on that camera were of the military facility,” Sherwin said, noting that a witness saw Zhao intentionally take pictures within the restricted area. “It did not have the hallmark of a tourist who got lost and wandered onto the military facility.”
Chinese student sentenced to a year in prison for taking photos of US naval base @CNN https://t.co/61C0nyq6r1 #ChineseStudent #NavalBase #ZhaoQianli #Guilty #Photographs #FederalPrison #JIATF
— Michael Coscia (@mc528) February 7, 2019
Court filings implied Zhao was a possible spy for the Chinese government.
His attorney, Hongwei Shang, said no espionage was involved.
“He’s not a spy,” Shang said. “A spy would not do things like him. There’s no proof. … He committed a stupid mistake. He confessed to it. He just wants to go home.”
The Navy said the incident proves that the base’s security measures work, the Miami Herald reported
“These security measures that we have in place, which are random, they work obviously because we caught the guy,” said Trice Denny, spokeswoman for Naval Air Station Key West.
CNN reported that many people who come from China on exchange visits have a connection to the government.
“There is no comparison to the breadth and scope of the Chinese threat facing America today, as they actively seek to supplant the US globally,” Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said.
[Security Note – In 2017-2018 there were 363,000 Chinese students in the U.S. – most of Chinese mandatory military age.]