In a stunning turn of events, a former U.S. Army Sergeant, Joseph Daniel Schmidt, aged 29, was arrested on federal felony charges upon his arrival from a three-year sojourn in Hong Kong. Schmidt stands accused of offering classified national defense information to the Chinese government. The allegations have sent shockwaves through the intelligence and defense communities, raising concerns about national security.
Schmidt’s journey into espionage began shortly after his separation from the military. Court documents suggest that he had access to top-secret information related to China, which he offered to the Chinese Consulate in Turkey and Chinese security services. Schmidt had traveled to Hong Kong in March 2020 and primarily resided there until his recent return to the United States.
Acting U.S. Attorney Tessa M. Gorman for the Western District of Washington expressed her concern: “Members of our military take a sworn oath to defend our country and the Constitution. In that context, the 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.”
During his military service from January 2015 to January 2020, Schmidt was stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state. He was pivotal in supervising human intelligence reporting, analysis, and products directly related to the Indo-Pacific Command, the Department of Defense’s combatant command responsible for the Pacific and Indian Ocean region, including China.
Schmidt’s access to “Top Secret” information, capable of causing “exceptionally grave damage” to national security if disclosed without authorization, raised alarm among investigators.
The affidavit filed by Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Brandon Tower revealed that Schmidt had previously expressed an interest in Chinese culture and had visited China during his active duty, taking personal leave in 2017. In February 2020, shortly after transitioning to inactive duty status, he conducted internet searches related to extradition and treason, indicating a potential shift in his intentions.
Court documents also pointed to an email Schmidt allegedly sent to the Chinese Consulate in Istanbul on February 24, 2020. The email mentioned his current top-secret clearance and expressed a desire to share information with the government. Additionally, Schmidt created a Word document titled “Important Information to Share with Chinese Government.”
While it remains unclear whether China received the information Schmidt attempted to transmit, these allegations underscore the seriousness of the charges against him.
Schmidt’s arrest took place as he arrived in San Francisco from Hong Kong. The FBI is currently investigating the case, with assistance from the U.S. Army Counterintelligence Command.
This incident bears similarities to other recent cases involving U.S. military personnel accused of compromising national security. In April, Massachusetts Air National Guardsman Jack Teixeira was arrested for allegedly leaking classified U.S. intelligence documents online, facing charges of willful retention and transmission of national defense information.