A suspected Chinese spy targeted politicians in California’s Bay Area and across the country between 2011 and 2015, a year-long investigation by Axios reveals.
To gain proximity to U.S. political power, Fang Fang, also known as Christine Fang, did not only attend campaign fundraisers and cultural events but also engaged in romantic or sexual relations with at least two Midwestern mayors, according to former and current officials who spoke with the outlet.
Fang enrolled at California State University East Bay in 2011. There, she held two presidential positions: first, of the school’s Chinese Student Association, and second, of the campus chapter of the Asian Pacific Islander American Public Affairs (APAPA).
She used those positions as her initial platform to break into political networks, the report said. Among her first known contacts include California Democratic Reps. Eric Swalwell, Judy Chu and Ro Khanna, as well as former Fremont Mayor Bill Harrison.
Fang appears to have had the strongest connection with Swalwell, beginning during the official’s time as councilmember for Dublin. In late 2012, Swalwell became one of the youngest members of the House, and about three years later, he secured a seat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
Fang helped raise funds on Swalwell’s behalf and facilitated internship placements in his office, according to a Bay Area political operative. His 2012 campaign relied heavily on Asian American support, a former staffer said, and this made his ties to the Chinese American community and the APAPA particularly important.
Swalwell became known in recent years for insisting that President Trump colluded with Russians to win the 2016 election. He declined to participate in Axios’ story but suggested to Politico that the information leak must be payback by the administration.
“I’ve been a critic of the president. I’ve spoken out against him. I was on both committees that worked to impeach him. The timing feels like that should be looked at,” Swalwell told the outlet. “What it appears though that this person [Fang] — as the story reports — was unsuccessful in whatever they were trying to do. But if intelligence officials are trying to weaponize someone’s cooperation, they are essentially seeking to do what this person was not able to do, which is to try and discredit someone.”
Beyond Bay Area officials, Fang targeted mayors across the U.S., meeting and befriending them in conferences. In 2014, an older Midwestern mayor “from an obscure city” referred to her as his “girlfriend” and insisted that their relationship was real, according to former Cupertino Mayor Gilbert Wong, who was present during the conversation.
Fang also had “a sexual encounter” with an Ohio mayor in a car, which had been under FBI surveillance. She claimed that she was interested in him because she wanted to improve her English.
In 2015, a widening counterintelligence probe alerted Swalwell’s office with concerns about Fang’s behavior. The official immediately cut off all ties with the Chinese national, according to a current intelligence official.
Amid the probe, Fang left in the middle of that year, surprising and confusing the network she had built through the years. “When she left kind of abruptly, we all kind of scratched our heads,” said Harrison, who knew Fang as a volunteer in his office and was also alerted by the FBI.
Fang has not returned to the U.S. since her sudden departure. The Department of Justice has filed no public charges against her.
While officials do not believe Fang had received or transmitted classified information, her case is a “big deal,” according to a current intelligence official, since there are “some really, really sensitive people that were caught up.” Data such as the politicians’ schedules, preferences, habits, social networks and even rumors about them are characterized as political intelligence.
Axios reports that the Bay Area offers “ideal conditions” for foreign intelligences to carry out their work. For one, it is home to Silicon Valley, “making it a hotbed for Chinese economic espionage.”
The Bay Area also has among the largest and oldest Chinese American communities in the U.S. Beijing’s spy services reportedly aim to influence these communities to the regime, and eventually, squash potential opposition to the ruling Communist Party.
Feature Images via Renren (left) and Facebook (right)
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