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Chinese exchange student convicted of taking photos at sensitive naval facility

Peter Stewart, PortandTerminal.com, Feb. 7, 2019

A 20-year-old Chinese exchange student was sentenced to a year in federal prison after he pleaded guilty to illegally taking pictures at a sensitive US defense intelligence facility in Florida.The student, Zhao Qianli, says he’s a musicology student from China who travelled to the United States for a summer exchange program. After he finished his studies in September, he booked a flight to Miami and then headed for Key West.

But rather than see the typical tourist sights, Qianli got caught by Key West police for trespassing onto the high-security Naval Air Station. He later told federal authorities that he lost his way on the tourist trail and did not realize it was a military base.

Federal prosecutor Michael Sherwin said that Qianli waded into the water in his clothes to go around the security fence on the southern end of the naval base, where signs say it is a restricted area — and to keep out.

According to court documents, Zhao entered the Joint Interagency Task Force South military property, located on Naval Air Station Key West, on September 26 without permission “by circumnavigating the installation’s primary fence line, and entering the military property from the beach.”

“The primary pictures on that camera were of the military facility,” Sherwin said, noting that a witness saw Qianli go directly to the Defense Department antenna field and snap pictures. “It did not have the hallmark of a tourist who got lost and wandered onto the military facility.”

Qianli’s conviction and sentencing followed a recent report by CNN that said U.S. intelligence officials have warned that China is enlisting some of its students studying in the United States to act as spies in gathering information on business, technology and science for the Beijing government.

Joint Interagency Task Force South

Satellite image of JIATF South based at Naval Air Station Key West (Truman Annex), Key West, Florida.
JIATF South based at Naval Air Station Key West (Truman Annex), Key West, Florida.

Located in Key West, on the southernmost tip of the Florida peninsula, JIATF South is the operational base of an international battle to combat illicit trafficking in Latin America and the Caribbean.

It conducts counter illicit trafficking operations, intelligence fusion and multi-sensor correlation to detect, monitor, and handoff suspected illicit trafficking targets; promotes security cooperation and coordinates country team and partner nation initiatives in order to defeat the flow of illicit traffic.

Photo os the headquarters of the Joint Interagency Task Force-South in Key West, Florida
Headquarters of the Joint Interagency Task Force-South in Key West, Florida 

JIATF-S includes all five branches of the U.S. military and U.S. government law enforcement agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Customs and Border Protection and the Drug Enforcement Administration. Added to this group of U.S. agencies are the military and law enforcement capabilities of national partners in Latin America, the Caribbean and Europe. 

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