“A suspected Chinese intelligence operative developed extensive ties with local and national politicians, including a U.S. congressman, in what U.S. officials believe was a political intelligence operation run by China’s main civilian spy agency between 2011 and 2015, Axios found in a yearlong investigation.
Why it matters: The alleged operation offers a rare window into how Beijing has tried to gain access to and influence U.S. political circles.
- While this suspected operative’s activities appear to have ended during the Obama administration, concerns about Beijing’s influence operations have spanned President Trump’s time in office and will continue to be a core focus for U.S. counterintelligence during the Biden administration.
The woman at the center of the operation, a Chinese national named Fang Fang or Christine Fang, targeted up-and-coming local politicians in the Bay Area and across the country who had the potential to make it big on the national stage.
- Through campaign fundraising, extensive networking, personal charisma, and romantic or sexual relationships with at least two Midwestern mayors, Fang was able to gain proximity to political power, according to current and former U.S. intelligence officials and one former elected official.
- Even though U.S. officials do not believe Fang received or passed on classified information, the case “was a big deal, because there were some really, really sensitive people that were caught up” in the intelligence network, a current senior U.S. intelligence official said.
- Private but unclassified information about government officials — such as their habits, preferences, schedules, social networks, and even rumors about them — is a form of political intelligence. Collecting such information is a key part of what foreign intelligence agencies do.
Among the most significant targets of Fang’s efforts was Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.).
- Fang took part in fundraising activity for Swalwell’s 2014 re-election campaign, according to a Bay Area political operative and a current U.S. intelligence official. Swalwell’s office was directly aware of these activities on its behalf, the political operative said. That same political operative, who witnessed Fang fundraising on Swalwell’s behalf, found no evidence of illegal contributions.
- Federal Election Commission records don’t indicate Fang herself made donations, which are prohibited from foreign nationals.
- Fang helped place at least one intern in Swalwell’s office, according to those same two people, and interacted with Swalwell at multiple events over the course of several years.
A statement from Swalwell’s office provided to Axios said: “Rep. Swalwell, long ago, provided information about this person — whom he met more than eight years ago, and whom he hasn’t seen in nearly six years — to the FBI. To protect information that might be classified, he will not participate in your story.” (Read more: Axios, 12/09/2020) (Archive)
“Rep. Eric Swalwell is calling for an investigation into who leaked information about his contacts with a Chinese spy.
But the California Democrat was not as concerned about leaks of classified information regarding alleged spy activity when it came to associates of Donald Trump.
Swalwell hyped a story in April 2017 that revealed that the FBI surveilled Carter Page based on suspicions that he was a Russian agent.
Page, citing new revelations about Swalwell’s contacts with a Chinese spy, called Swalwell one of the more ‘hypocritical and dangerous’ members of Congress.” (Read more: The Daily Caller, 12/09/2020) (Archive)
“House Intelligence Committee Republicans were surprised to learn this week that a member of their panel, Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell, was targeted by a suspected Chinese spy who slept with US politicians as a tactic to elicit information.
(…) A congressional Republican source told The Post that Intelligence Committee Republicans had not been informed of the relationship.
The committee is supposed to have access to some of the nation’s most sensitive information to fulfill its oversight role of shadowy government programs.” (Read more: New York Post, 12/09/2020) (Archive)