A Chinese spy cultivated deep connections with U.S. Democratic politicians for years, including with Rep. Eric Swalwell of California, to send political intelligence and personal information back to communist China, according to reporting by Axios.
Axios reporters spoke to U.S. intelligence officials and former acquaintances of the spy, Fang Fang or Christine Fang, to outline how under the direction of China’s Ministry of State Security (MSS), one of the country’s primary spying agencies, she collected private information on U.S. bureaucrats, especially those in California’s Bay Area.
According to U.S. intelligence officials and a former politician, between 2011 and 2015, Fang socialized, networked with Rep. Judy Chu and then-Rep. Mike Honda, campaigned for now-Rep. Rho Khanna, volunteered for Bill Harrison, the mayor of Fremont, California at the time, fundraised for people such as Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, and in some cases, developed romantic or sexual relationships with politicians to gain intelligence and send it back to her handlers, who were believed to be stationed in mainland China. She also reportedly used her close ties to government officials and politicians to place “subagents” as employees or interns in some political and congressional offices.
Fang developed a relationship with Russia hoaxer Swalwell, who began serving on the United States House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and as a ranking member of its Central Intelligence Agency Subcommittee in 2015. Reports from a political operative and intelligence official indicate that Fang raised millions for Swalwell’s re-election in 2014 and helped place at least one intern in his Washington, D.C. office.
“According to those same two people, she interacted with Swalwell at multiple events over the course of several years,” Axios reported.
Despite his repetitive harping on the GOP and Trump about Russia collusion, the failed presidential candidate’s office told Axios that “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” and no longer has contact with the Chinese spy.
Fang reportedly gained access to political circles as a student at California State University East Bay and her positions as president of the school’s Chinese Student Association and president of the campus chapter of Asian Pacific Islander American Public Affairs (APAPA) in 2011. She hurriedly departed from the U.S. back to China in 2015, despite planning to attend upcoming events in the states.
That same year, U.S. intelligence warned local and national politicians through defensive briefings of Fang’s Chinese intelligence connections, saying that Fang’s cozying up with the politicians in question was part of a “long game play” by communist China “to strike up a relationship with you and see if you move up the line.” Fang’s particular operation appeared to have dissipated in 2015.
According to Axios, the Justice Department has filed no public charges against Fang.
U.S. intelligence first began to monitor Fang after she met with “a suspected MSS officer” disguised as a diplomat at the San Francisco consulate who was already under surveillance by the FBI. Soon after, the FBI’s San Francisco Division began to investigate Fang. One U.S. official claimed that “the fact that she was traveling around the country” to network with U.S. politicians “was a big red flag” and indicated that “she was on a mission.”
The Bay Area, the article notes, was targeted for several reasons. First, it is home to Silicon Valley, “making it a hotbed for Chinese economic espionage.” Secondly, China sees California’s economy as an opportunity to influence significant policy through the state’s politics.
Operating out of the Bay Area also reportedly allows communist China to keeps tabs on large Chinese-American communities in California “to influence these communities to become more predisposed to the regime, as well as surveil and stamp out potential organized opposition to the Communist Party.” According to Axios, the MSS, the agency U.S. officials believe employed Fang, “has a unit dedicated solely to political intelligence and influence operations in California.”
China has been known to attempt to infiltrate U.S. institutions in the name of spying before. In September, a community affairs New York police officer with close familial ties to the Chinese Communist Party was arrested and held without bail on “charges of acting as an illegal agent of China, wire fraud, making false statements and obstructing an official hearing.”
Sen. Diane Feinstein, former chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, also once employed a staffer who was secretly using his position to send intelligence back to Chinese officials at the MSS.
That same month, Sec. of State Mike Pompeo warned legislators at the Wisconsin State Capitol to remain cautious of the Chinese Communist Party’s attempts to influence American institutions. In addition to the CCP’s meddling in local government, Pompeo warned against China’s attacks against American business and universities, encouraging legislators to crack down on enacting IP security, “engage with free and democratic Taiwan,” and examine state pension funds that might be connected to Chinese surveillance.