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Former Hampton Roads sailor goes to trial Tuesday in spy case 

USS Higgins is off the coast of China. Mar. 3, 2024. (Department of Defense)
USS Higgins is off the coast of China. Mar. 3, 2024. (Department of Defense)

Chief Petty Officer Bryce Steven Pedicini is accused of passing along classified information to a foreign power, crimes he committed several times while assigned to Navy training schools in Hampton Roads in 2022 and 2023, according to charge sheets.

“These cases, and we're seeing an uptick in them recently, pose not only a threat to our national security, but it also poses a threat to all of the sailors and service members and civilian employees, those who work at installations around the country, or around the world,” said Gary Barthell, an expert in military law. 

Most of the incidents happened while he was a student at the Surface Combat Systems Training Command at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Maintenance Center in Norfolk. 

He was stationed here from February 2022 until he was assigned to the USS Higgins in San Diego in April 2023. The sailor was taken into custody this week while he was assigned to the destroyer in Japan and transported back to San Diego for trial.

Pedicini faces 21 counts. Though the punishment for espionage can include death, the Navy did not seek the death penalty. Pedicini still faces life in prison. The Navy has not revealed who they believe was receiving the information. Pedicini’s trial is slated to run until April 19. 

“What we're seeing more of is … the Chinese are upping their tempo in attempting to get classified information from sailors. And it wouldn't surprise me if this was that sort of case,” Barthell said.

Pedicini is the third sailor to face charges of selling classified material in the last year. Jinchao Wei, a machinist's mate on the USS Essex was charged last summer for sending information to China. Petty Officer Wenheng Zhao was sentenced to 27 months for transmitting intelligence to a foreign officer. Two other sailors were tried in federal court in California. 

This is not the first time Hampton Roads has been the epicenter for a Navy spying case. 

In 1967, John Walker, Jr. walked into the Soviet embassy in Washington, D.C and offered to sell classified documents. The warrant officer was stationed at a submarine command in Norfolk. He became one of the most notorious spies in the history of the Navy. Eventually Walker recruited his son after he retired. The stream of classified material continued to flow until he was caught making a drop in 1985, after federal officials followed him from his house in Norfolk.

“What's interesting about Walker is that whole time period, in the mid ’80s, when we had the rash of spy cases come up. It wasn't just Walker, but CIA agents. It seems like we're going through a similar period. Back then it was the Soviets. Now it seems like China is driving this,” Barthell said.

Steve joined WHRO in 2023 to cover military and veterans. Steve has extensive experience covering the military and working in public media, most recently at KPBS in San Diego, WYIN in Gary, Indiana and WBEZ in Chicago. In the early 2000s, he embedded with members of the Indiana National Guard in Kuwait and Iraq. Steve reports for NPR’s American Homefront Project, a national public media collaboration that reports on American military life and veterans. Steve is also on the board of Military Reporters & Editors.

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