A suspected Chinese spy infiltrated the political circles of politicians across the United States, most notably in the Bay Area of California, an explosive investigative report from Axios reveals.
The report centers around a woman named Fang Fang, also known as Christine Fang. "Through campaign fundraising, extensive networking, personal charisma, and romantic or sexual relationships," Fang was able to gain access to a number of American politicians including congressmen and mayors.
Fang enrolled at California State University East Bay in 2011, where she serves as president of both the institution's Chinese Student Association and Asian Pacific Islander American Public Affairs (APAPA). For the next four years, Fang played a major role in organizing events, fundraisers, and engagements while maintaining close contact with the local Chinese consulate. While Axios noted that maintaining ties with Chinese consular services is common for presidents of campus Chinese student groups, Fang's ties with the consulate were unusually close even for someone in her position.
Over time, Fang developed a reputation as a well-connected political operative, bringing high-profile representatives and donors to political events. She also developed close relationships with "likely unwitting subagents" in a variety of political offices. She volunteered for a number of politicians with a wide range of influence, and often helped organize events on their behalf. Fang identified herself as a connector between politicians and the Californian Asian-American community. She abruptly returned to China in 2015 after the FBI began investigating her activities, where she fell off the radar.
In the four years she was operating on US soil, Fang's most notable connection became Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell. Fang hosted fundraiser events for Swalwell, managed to place an intern in Swalwell's office, and met with Swalwell multiple times. Swalwell was eventually alerted to Fang's suspicious behaviour in 2015 by the FBI, at which point Swalwell cut off relations with the woman. "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," reads a statement from Rep. Swalwell's office. "To protect information that might be classified, he will not participate in your story."
Swallwell is notorious for pushing conspiracy theories about President Trump colluding with Russia.
Fang maintained connections with many other politicians, including two Midwestern mayors who she engaged in sexual relations with. One of these sexual encounters was caught by FBI electronic surveillance. She volunteered in the office of Fremont, California Democratic Mayor Bill Harrison, attended events on behalf of former Democratic San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, and organized a meeting between the mayor of Shenzhen, China and Gilbert Wong, the Democratic mayor of Cupertino, California.
Cupertino is one of the main cities in Silicon Valley and is home to many major tech companies including Apple, while Shenzhen is often dubbed "China's Silicon Valley" due to the extensive tech industry present in the southern Chinese city. US intelligence officials see the San Francisco Bay area as a prime target for Chinese spies due to the large tech sector present in the area, with American information technology being of particular interest to the Chinese government. The Bay area also has a history of distrust of US intelligence and investigative officials due to the extensive monitoring of left-wing political figures in the area between the 1950s and 1980s.
Chinese officials also target the Bay area due to the large number of Chinese-Americans who live there, a group which the Chinese government likes to keep tabs on.
Fang also volunteered for Democrat Ro Khanna's unsuccessful 2014 House bid, who was later elected in 2016. In 2013, she organized a fundraiser on behalf of Democratic Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard. She has appeared in pictures alongside Swalwell and Khanna, as well as Democratic Congresswoman Judy Chu and former Democratic Congressman Mike Honda.
US counterintelligence officials eventually concluded that Fang was likely operating on behalf of China’s Ministry of State Security (MSS) after video surveillance discovered her to be meeting with a suspected undercover MSS officer working in a Chinese consulate in San Francisco. Officials who spoke with Axios claimed that Fang and the other suspected operative under surveillance were gathering political intelligence and conducting influencing operations. As a result, Fang was put under investigation by intelligence officials and politicians she had contact with were notified of their suspicion. "The fact that she was traveling around the country was a big red flag," one intelligence official noted.
The case is just one example of China's spies infiltrating the American political system. "She was just one of lots of agents," claimed a US intelligence official. As FBI Director Chris Wray noted, China "is engaged in a highly sophisticated malign foreign influence campaign" involving "subversive, undeclared, criminal, or coercive attempts to sway our government’s policies, distort our country's public discourse, and undermine confidence in our democratic processes and values."
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