An alleged Chinese operative reportedly worked to pass information to the country by getting close to U.S. politicians, including Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA), during the years of the Obama administration.

The story, reported by Axios, details the alleged work of Chinese national Fang Fang, or Christine Fang, who targeted politicians in the Bay Area that were believed to have the potential to become more influential. The effort took place between 2011 and 2015 at the direction of China’s Ministry of State Security.

 

While the FBI was still conducting its probe, Fang left the U.S. and returned to China in 2015. Officials say China eventually called off her alleged spying.

In detail: Axios said that Fang, who was a student at California State University East Bay, started cultivating ties to politicians through student organizations. Her position in the organizations allowed her to attend political events and fundraisers for several prominent Democrats, where she used her “personal charisma” to connect with lawmakers and expand her network. She also engaged in “romantic or sexual relationships” with some of them, including two mayors of Midwestern cities, according to the FBI.

 

A senior U.S. official told the publication that “there were some really, really sensitive people that were caught up” in the operation but that Fang did not manage to obtain any classified information. Axios pointed out that information such as politician’s habits, schedules, and preferences is still intelligence that foreign agencies are interested in.

Swalwell and the alleged Chinese spy: Fang’s ties to Swalwell began when he was a councilmember for Dublin City, California. She met the California lawmaker in the early 2010s and by 2014, Fang had quickly “developed close ties to Swalwell’s office.” She helped Swalwell bring in donors, fundraised for his re-election campaign in 2014, and placed one intern in his office, sources familiar with the matter said.

The FBI’s counterintelligence probe flagged Fang’s activities, prompting the agency to reach out to Swalwell and give him a defensive briefing. The lawmaker stopped working with Fang after the briefing and has not been accused of any wrongdoing.

Swalwell’s response: “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,” his office said in a statement.

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Photo credit: Gage Skidmore