Suspected Chinese spy targeted California politicians, had sex with at least two Midwestern mayors: Report
Axios' bombshell report said the suspected operative's activity went on between 2011 and 2015 when she abruptly left the US
The rivalry of the US and China is a defining factor of international relations in the 21st century. The two big economies have locked horns in different theatres — be it economic, geostrategic or political. The rivalry has only become worse and now, a bombshell report from Axios is set to raise the decibel level even more.
On Tuesday, December 8, Axios came out with a lengthy report claiming a suspected Chinese intelligence agent had extensive ties with some local and national politicians of the US, including a congressman, in what American officials suspect was a political intelligence operation conducted by China’s main civilian spy agency.
Axios, which carried out a yearlong probe, said the operation was in force between 2011 and 2015. The alleged operative even made use of romantic and sexual relationships with some of the political leaders to get closer to political power centers, the report cited informed sources as saying.
“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,” the report said.
“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 US intelligence officials and one former elected official,” it added.
At least a couple of sexual interactions with elected officials were even caught on the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) electronic surveillance of Fang, Axios cited two intelligence officials as saying. It though could not identify or speak with those elected officials. The alleged operation offers a view into Beijing’s efforts to gain influence in America’s political circles.
The report said while the suspected agent’s activities appeared to have concluded during the time of former president Barack Obama, the deteriorating relations between Washington and Beijing in the time of President Trump have refueled concerns over Beijing’s secret missions and it is highly likely to continue to be the core focus for American counter-intelligence after Joe Biden assumes presidency next month.
The suspected operative, a Chinese national named Christine Fang, enrolled as a student at Cal State East Bay in 2011.— B. Allen-Ebrahimian (@BethanyAllenEbr) December 8, 2020
Fang’s friends and acquaintances said she was in her late 20s or early 30s, though she looked younger and blended in well with the undergraduate population. pic.twitter.com/cDhp8s8CTa
What the suspected Chinese operative did
The suspected woman operative "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," the report said. Officials believe Fang did not receive or transfer classified information but yet consider the case to be “a big deal” since “really, really sensitive people” were involved in the intelligence network, a current senior American intelligence official was cited as saying by Axios.
Political intelligence by foreign spies includes gathering private but unclassified information about government officials — like their habits, preferences, social networks, etc.
Who were among the suspected Chinese operative's targets?
One of the most notable targets of Fang was reported to be California’s 40-year-old Democratic lawmaker Eric Swalwell, who has been serving since 2013. It was said that Fang participated in the fundraising activity for Swalwell’s 2014 re-election campaign, according to a Bay Area political operative and current intelligence official.
Swalwell’s office had knowledge of these activities and witnesses to Fang’s fundraising on the lawmaker’s behalf said there was no evidence of any illegal contribution. Federal Election Commission’s findings said Fang did not make donations herself, something from which foreign nationals are barred.
Axios also came up with a statement that Swalwell’s office issued on the matter: “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.”
Swalwell terminated all ties with Fang, according to a current intelligence official, after federal investigators alerted the Democrat around 2015 over Fang’s activities. Fang reportedly left the US in mid-2015 amid a probe.
Bill Harrison, the former Democratic mayor of Fremont, California, said he knew Fang since she volunteered in his office and took part in a number of political and community events held locally. Harrison told Axios that he was contacted by the FBI in August 2015 and warned about Fang’s suspicious activities in the Bay Area, which is often targeted by foreign intelligence for political and economic reasons.
In 2014, an event at the Chinese Embassy in Washington DC saw Fang in the company of Mike Honda, former Democratic congressman from California, and Ash Kalra, the then San Jose city council member and currently a member of California State Assembly. The Axios report, however, said that Kalra’s office failed to remember a meeting with Fang.
Fang’s friends said she was in her late 20s or early 30s when she was based in the US. She was said to have enrolled as a student at a university in the Bay Area. The woman used political get-togethers, campaign rallies and campus events as platforms for connecting with elected officials and other notable figures, according to intelligence officials, political operatives based in the Bay Area and former students and current and former elected officials who knew Fang.
The suspected operative had a sexual encounter with an Ohio mayor in a car that was under electronic FBI surveillance, informed a current official. Axios cited the same official as saying that when the mayor asked why Fang was interested in him, she told him she wanted to improve her English.
Fang also helped with a fundraiser for Tulsi Gabbard, the Democratic representative fron Hawaii, in 2013, according to a flyer from the event she shared on Facebook. The FBI and the Chinese Embassy in Washington, however, did not comment on the matter, the report said.