A former US Army sergeant who allegedly lived in China for several years was arrested Friday on charges of keeping national defense information and attempting to share it with the Chinese government.
According to court filings, Joseph Daniel Schmidt was an active-duty soldier in the US Army from 2015 to 2020, where he served as a team leader on a Human Intelligence squad – eventually supervising the “collection operations and the production of intelligence reporting, analysis, and the dissemination of intelligence products.” In his role, Schmidt had access to classified intelligence, as well as a top-secret security clearance, prosecutors say.
Schmidt is scheduled to make his initial appearance in a California federal court on Friday, according to a Justice Department news release.
If convicted, the two charges Schmidt faces – attempting to deliver national defense information and retention of national defense information – each carry up to 10 years in prison. No attorney is listed for Schmidt on the public docket.
After transitioning to inactive duty in January 2020, Schmidt allegedly made trips to Beijing and Turkey and searched on Google phrases including “turkey extradition military defection,” “soldier defect,” “chinese embassy,” “iranian embassy,” and “can you be extradited for treason.”
In February 2020, Schmidt sent an email to the Chinese Consulates’ public email address in Turkey, saying that he was looking to move to China and “share information I learned during my career as an interrogator with the Chinese government,” according to court documents.
“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. My experience includes training in interrogation, running sources as a spy handler, surveillance detection, and other advanced psychological operation strategies,” he allegedly wrote.
Schmidt then created a document titled “Important Information to Share with Chinese Government,” federal investigators said, which the US Army later determined contained classified national defense information.
In March 2020, Schmidt traveled back to China after spending a few days in the US following his Turkey trip, court documents say. He hadn’t returned to the US until Friday, according to the Justice Department, and was arrested at an airport in San Francisco.
While in China, Schmidt allegedly created other documents detailing US Army intelligence practices over training, intelligence collection, interrogations methods as well as a hand-drawn diagram of an Army computer network.
The former Army sergeant allegedly contacted Chinese companies run by the government there to advertise his services and access to sensitive material. In one such email, Schmidt allegedly wanted to “reverse engineer” an encryption key used to access a classified network in the Army “to give to the Chinese government.”
He allegedly wrote in an email to an associate that he was motivated to leave the US after learning “some terrible things about the American government” while serving in the Army.
The arrest comes after several members of the US armed forces have been charged this year with retaining or sharing military information with others, including China.
In August, two US Navy sailors were charged with sharing sensitive military information with the foreign country, one of whom allegedly sent blueprints of a US radar system in Japan, and a National Guardsman was arrested in April after allegedly posting a trove of classified documents on social media.