If you don't find this page over at Wiki, (or if you one day want to read the less edited version), then go under the cut. CHRISTINE FANG.
Christine Fang (Chinese: 方芳; pinyin: Fāng Fāng) is a Chinese national who has been suspected by United States officials of having conducted political espionage as an intelligence operative for the Chinese Ministry of State Security (MSS) while she was in the United States from 2011-2015.[note 1]
Fang entered California State University, East Bay in 2011. While there, some of the activities she was involved in included being president of the Chinese Student Association (CSA) the Asian Pacific Islander American Public Affairs (APAPA). While there she used those positions as platforms to allow her to move in political circles across all three levels of American government.
According to her activity records on the Chinese social media platform Renren, Fang was presented with a “certificate of honor” award by the San Francisco Chinese consulate as president of the CSUEB CSA. While Axios said that it was common for CSA presidents to be in frequent communication with Chinese consular officials, it also said that "Fang's relationship to the San Francisco consulate was especially close."
According to Axios, Fang was suspected of conducting political intelligence activities in the United States from 2011-2015 through several avenues, including her personal charisma, sexual/romantic relationships, campaign fundraising, and networking. While most of her activities were concentrated in the San Francisco Bay Area, she targeted other areas of the United States as well. In 2015, according to U.S. counterintelligence officials, Fang's activities were interrupted when she was under investigation by the FBI, leading to her leaving the U.S. The FBI probe had been instigated on a suspected Ministry of State Security officer working in the San Francisco embassy undercover as a diplomat. A counterintelligence official said that Fang's interaction with that officer in addition her movement profile - her travels throughout the United States, leading to her involvement with several U.S. politicians - were among the reasons why she was put under surveillance. No charges were filed against her.
Prior to Fang's departure, her activities included:
- Fundraising for Eric Swalwell’s 2014 re-election campaign in her capacity as a "bundler"[note 2] and helping place an intern in his D.C. office. Around 2015, federal investigators, who by then were aware of Fang's relationship with Swalwell, alerted him of their concerns through a defensive briefing. Axios described Swalwell as amongst the most significant target of Fang's political influence efforts and Swalwell's general relationship with Fang has been characterized as problematic, particularly given the high-profile role that he occupied - a member of the House Intelligence Committee - within the intelligence community.
- Volunteering for Ro Khanna's 2014 Congressional House election campaign. Khanna's office said that Khanna remembered seeing Fang at several political gatherings for Indian Americans, but that was the limited contact with her. Khanna's office also said that the FBI did not brief them on Fang's activities and that her name did not appear in their 2014 campaign staff records, although they said that their records did not include all volunteers.
- Helping with a 2013 fundraiser event for Tulsi Gabbard in which Fremont City Councilmember Raj Salwan also participated. A Gabbard spokesperson said that she "has no recollection of ever meeting or talking with her, nor any recollection of her playing a major role at the fundraiser" while Salwan said he was "unaware of Fang's role in the event" and that her name was "added to the flyer by other Asian American leaders."
- Interacting with then-Representative Mike Honda, then-San Jose city Councilmember Ash Kalra and then-mayor of Cupertino Gilbert Wong at a March 2014 Sister Cities International conference which was held at Chinese Embassy in D.C. Wong said that Fang introduced him to the mayor of Shenzhen - both cities have major tech industries - and served as a translator between the two; Honda said he had "no memory of meeting Fang"and a Kaldra representative said he "did not remember meeting Fang."
- Volunteering at Bill Harrison’s office and helping coordinate talks about creating a sister city in China with Fremont, California, of which Harrison was then the mayor. Harrison said in August 2015 that he was contacted by the FBI after Fang's egress from the United States who told him about her suspected activities in the Bay Area.
- Engaging with two midwestern city mayors in relationships of either a sexual or romantic nature, which included a sexual encounter between Fang and one of the mayors in a car under FBI electronic surveillance.
According to Axios, Fang's case has been noteworthy for a number of reasons.
- It has shown the methods China uses to in the United States to infiltrate U.S. politics and spread Chinese influence.
- It has demonstrated China’s strategy of cultivating long-term relationships.
- It had caught up sensitive people even though U.S. officials said they do not believe any classified information was received by Fang, or passed on by her to China.
- It has sharpened the liminality of Chinese American identity.
The Hindustan Times said that Fang's activities "appeared to have been a part of a larger Chinese spying operation in the United States," citing comments made by FBI director Christopher Wray in June 2020 that the bureau had more than 2,000 active investigations into Chinese activities in the US and the US shut down of the Chinese consulate in Houston in July 2020.
Writing for the Diplomat, James Palmer said that while the case "illustrated the time and effort that Chinese intelligence services were willing to put into cultivating low-level politicians," it also raised questions about "the level of caution necessary for politicians when dealing with Chinese nationals—where to draw the line between security and paranoia."
Those who criticized Swalwell for his relationship with Fang included Ted Cruz, Tom Cotton, Rick Scott, Donald Trump Jr., Kayleigh McEnany, Kevin McCarthy, Liz Cheney, Jason Chaffetz and Marco Rubio. Swalwell responded in an interview with Politico by insinuating the political nature of the reports about his connection to Fang, suggesting the information was leaked to hurt him because of his criticism of President Donald Trump. An article in New York said that his defense was unconvincing. In an interview with CNN the day after, Swalwell said that he immediately cooperated with the federal investigation into Fang and, in highlighting one of the findings in the Axios article, was certain that he did not share sensitive information with Fang while also reiterating his insinuations about the political nature of the reports. Swalwell was further defended by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who said congressional communication with the members of the suspected Chinese operation ceased after a 2015 briefing to both Democratic and Republican leaders on it. Palmer warned that such partisan reactions from both the Democrats and the Republicans to the reports risked creating an environment in which US counterintelligence against both Russia and China would be unable to function.
James Carafano said that Fang's case was a microcosm of China's influence operations over local American legislatures and tied it to what he said was great power competition between the United States and China.