Federal authorities are investigating if six Chinese individuals found trespassing on President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club and a U.S. Naval base in Florida were simply disoriented tourists or government spies.
The string of odd occurrences began in September 2018 when a Chinese student entered the Naval Air Station Key West by walking along the facility’s secure perimeter and began taking photos of ‘sensitive equipment.’
Six months later in 2019, a women attempted to enter the Mar-a-Lago club with a cache of electronic items, including four cellphones, a laptop, a thumb drive and a hard drive.
Lu Jing (pictured) was initially turned away from Mar-a-Lago in December 2019, but entered through a service entrance and began taking pictures of the property. During her court appearance, Jing asked through her translator ‘Who is Mar-a-Lago’ when told to stay away from the property
That same year, a different woman was arrested for entering Mar-a-Lago through a service entrance and taking photos of the property.
In total, four Chinese men have been arrested for trespassing and snapping photos at the Naval Air Station Key West since 2018, and two Chinese women have been arrested for trespassing at Mar-a-Lago since March 2019.
All six of them said that they were tourists who got mixed up while sightseeing, but NBC News reports that authorities are questioning their claims.
Frank Figliuzzi, a former FBI assistant director for counterintelligence,’ said: ‘Coincidences take a lot of planning.’
‘These types of brazen and repeated attempts to breach security at two separate facilities in the same region are highly unusual and worthy of serious inquiry by our intelligence community.’
Figliuzzi suggested that the cases could point to various scenarios, including testing the Trump administration’s abilities.
Yujing Zhang (left and right) was arrested in March 2019 for trespassing onto Mar-a-Lago with several electronics, including including four cellphones, a laptop, a thumb drive and a hard drive
‘These attempts could be a distraction from some greater targeting or an attempt to tie up federal security resources in an area responsible for securing the president’s residence,’ he said.
‘This could also be an attempt to test the Trump administration’s ability to react to targeting by one of our greatest adversaries.’
Other China experts say the four incidences at the Naval Air Station Key West were especially dubious.
‘You don’t just saunter onto a base like that, and individual Chinese students are extremely risk averse to this kind of thing,’ said Robert Daly.
Daly, director of the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States at the Woodrow Wilson Center, pointed to the similarities in each case as evidence.
‘All of these people are in the same location, are Chinese, have cameras and backgrounds that are not those of casual tourists,’ he said.
‘I never thought this could be anything other than a coordinated effort,’ he added .
Zhao Qianli, 20, was the first suspect arrested on September 26, 2018, outside the Naval Air Station Key.
Zhao Qian (left) was taken into custody after he was caught trespassing at theNaval Air Station Key in 2018. In a separate incident, Lyuyou Liao (right) was arrested the day after Christmas when he trespassed onto the Key West Naval base and took photos of the Truman Annex
Zhao entered the facility by walking along the perimeters and through the nearby beach.
Once inside, Zhao went directly towards the Interagency Task Force South property, where he took photos on a Motorola cellphone and a Canon EOS digital camera.
The images contained shots of base’s ‘antenna farm’, warning signs that read ‘Military Installation’ and ‘Restricted Area’ signs.
Zhao originally told authorities he was a ‘dishwasher from New Jersey’ who was ‘lost,’ but later said in interviews with the FBI that he traveled to Key West to ‘see the sights, such as the Hemingway House.’
No photos of the Hemingway House or other tourist attractions were found in his possession.
He later admitted that he had military training as a university student in China and had a ‘police blouse’. Zhao also had a People’ Republic of China Interior Ministry belt buckle in his hotel room.
Zhao pleaded guilty to one count of photographing defense installations and was sentenced to one year in prison.
Hongwei Shang, his attorney, argued that Zhao made an honest mistake and was not a spy.
He told the Miami Herald: ‘He’s not a spy. He committed a stupid mistake. He confessed to it. He just wants to go home.’
On March 20, 2019, 32-year-old Yujing Zhang tried to enter Mar-a-Lago with several electronic items and was arrested.
She claims to have bought a ticket for an event scheduled at the club for that Friday night, but it was later cancelled after it received scrutiny.
Trump was reportedly golfing at the time of Zhang’s arrest. Law enforcement who searched her hotel room found nine USB drives, five SIM cards, another cellphone, a radio frequency device to detect hidden cameras and over $8,000 in cash,’ NBC reports.
Zhang, who acted as her own attorney, pleaded not guilty and was convicted of trespassing.
She is currently set to be deported, but her whereabouts at the moment are unknown.
Next, Lu Jing, 56, was arrested near Mar-a-Lago on December 18, 2019, after she entered the premises through a service entrance and began taking photos of the property.
She was initially turned away from Mar-a-Lago, but entered anyway.
Surveillance cameras captured her at the Mar-a-Lago property, but she wasn’t approached or arrested by authorities until she was nearly two miles away at a shopping district.
She reportedly shouted ‘No, no, no’ and lifted her hands when officers walked towards her on Worth Avenue in Palm Beach. It was later learned she was in the U.S. on an expired visa.
During a court hearing, she was ordered by a judge to stay away from Mar-a-Lago.
This prompted Jing to ask through her translator, ‘Who is Mar-a-Lago?’
She later said she hired a Chinese tour guide to drop her off at several locations for $200, but ‘made a mistake’ by entering Mar-a-Lago.
She was acquitted of the trespassing charge, but was found guilty of resisting arrest and sentenced to six months in jail.
In 2019, a women attempted to enter the Mar-a-Lago club with a cache of electronic items, including four cellphones, a laptop, a thumb drive and a hard drive. That same year, a different woman was arrested for entering Mar-a-Lago through a service entrance and taking photos of the property
Four Chinese men were arrested since September 2018 for trespassing onto Naval Air Station Key West (pictured) and taking photos of the facility
Of the case, Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg said: ‘You don’t start deleting photos and resisting arrest if you’re just a tourist visiting Palm Beach.’
Aronberg said he’s been concerned about the uptick of cases involving Chinese nationals entering sensitive areas in Florida.
He said: ‘The facts of these cases are bigger than Mar-a-Lago or any one individual.’
‘This is about an overall pattern of activity that raises questions and concerns involving national security.’
Chinese national Lyuyou Liao, 27, was on student visa in the U.S. when he was arrested the day after Christmas at the naval base.
Authorities say he ignored warning signs and took photos of the Truman Annex with his cellphone.
Liao apparently entered the base in a similar fashion to Zhao by walking along the perimeter.
When stopped by military police, he explained in broken English that he was ‘trying to take photos of the sunrise.’
On Friday, Liao pleaded guilty to one count of photographing or sketching defense installations and faces up to one year behind bars.
Most recently, University of Michigan students Yuhao Wang and Jielun Zhang, both 24-years-old, were arrested at the naval base.
They were charged with entering military, naval or Coast Guard property for the purpose of photographing defense installations
Authorities say they drove into a restricted area in a blue Hyundai after ignoring a guard’s instructions to turn around when they couldn’t provide military clearance.
They were found 30 minutes later with photos on a Nikon camera and videos on their cellphones.
They have both pleaded not guilty.