Former U.S. Army Sergeant, Schmidt accused of providing classified national defense information to China

By Esther Muhozi
On 7 October 2023 at 11:00

Joseph Daniel Schmidt,29, a former U.S. Army Sergeant who stands accused of offering classified national defense information to China has been apprehended on federal felony charges upon his return from a three-year sojourn in Hong Kong.

As per media reports, the individual in question allegedly possessed top-secret information concerning China, which he purportedly shared with the Chinese Consulate in Turkey and Chinese security services shortly after his departure from the military, as indicated by court documents.

Schmidt’s journey led him to Hong Kong in March 2020, where he primarily resided until his recent return. He was arrested at San Francisco International Airport upon arriving from Hong Kong, as confirmed by officials.

Acting U.S. Attorney Tessa M. Gorman for the Western District of Washington expressed her astonishment at Schmidt’s alleged actions, stating, "Members of our military take a sworn oath to defend our country and the Constitution... 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."

Schmidt faces serious charges, including an attempt to deliver national defense information and retention of national defense information, both of which carry potential sentences of up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. He is the sole individual charged in the indictment, and there are no related charges against any other individuals, according to a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Court documents reveal that Schmidt served as an active-duty soldier from January 2015 to January 2020, with his primary assignment at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state. He held a position involving the supervision of human intelligence reporting, analysis, and products directly related to the Indo-Pacific Command, which covers the Pacific and Indian Ocean region, including China. Schmidt had access to classified information classified as "Top Secret," a level that could pose "exceptionally grave damage" to national security if disclosed without authorization.

While on active duty, Schmidt took personal leave to visit China in 2017 and expressed a recurring interest in Chinese culture. After transitioning to inactive duty in January 2020, he traveled to Beijing for a brief stay and later to Istanbul. In February 2020, he conducted internet searches related to extradition and treason.

Court documents indicate that Schmidt initiated contact with the Chinese Consulate in Istanbul in February 2020, expressing his willingness to share information. He also created a Word document titled "Important Information to Share with the Chinese Government."

Multiple emails attributed to Schmidt were listed in the court documents, along with documents containing national defense information that he allegedly created. Authorities did not confirm whether China received the information but noted that Schmidt attempted to transmit it.

Following his arrival in Hong Kong in March 2020, Schmidt endeavored to secure employment in China and obtain immigration papers to relocate there. While his application for a visitor status extension in Hong Kong was rejected due to overstaying, he was eventually granted a work permit in China in August 2020. He continued to pursue legal immigration status in Hong Kong while awaiting his move to China.

In a May 2020 email to his sister, Schmidt expressed dissatisfaction with the U.S. government and mentioned his intention to "go off the map for a long time," citing disagreements with American policy and unsettling experiences during his military service.

Schmidt is scheduled for an identity and detention hearing in San Francisco, followed by appearances in Western Washington District Court for further legal proceedings, as informed by a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office.