The alleged spy was an Eric Swalwell fundraiser and Ro Khanna volunteer, but some Midwestern mayors are likely more nervous because the FBI has footage of her having sex with them.
A few Bay Area rising political stars had a very sticky and difficult scandal dropped on them in the wee hours Tuesday morning, and this could just be the beginning of their headaches. The website Axios, which normally specializes in quick-hit, short bullet point articles, has a very thoroughly researched exposé on the exploits of an alleged Chinese ‘honey trap’ spy operative who worked out of the Bay Area from 2011 to 2015, as a bundler fundraiser for East Bay Rep. Eric Swalwell, and as a volunteer for Rep. Ro Khanna. She is also linked to several former Bay Area mayors.
We will get to the sex stuff first, because it is the most interesting aspect of this, but it does not appear that the accused spy Fang Fang (a.k.a. Christine Fang) seduced any of the Bay Area political figures. That action apparently took place with two unnamed Midwestern mayors. “At a 2014 conference in Washington, an older Midwestern mayor ‘from an obscure city’ referred to Fang as his ‘girlfriend’ and insisted the relationship was genuine despite the clear age difference between Fang and himself,” Axios reports. “Fang also had a sexual encounter with an Ohio mayor in a car that was under electronic FBI surveillance, said one current U.S. official.”
Swalwell appears to be Fang’s highest-level target in the reported information. She worked as a contribution “bundler” in Swalwell’s 2012 upset win over Pete Stark (foreign nationals cannot directly contribute to campaigns, but they can solicit other people’s contributions), and per Axios, she got an intern placed Swalwell’s office. The FBI did not find any illegal activity that we know of yet, and when the FBI privately warned Swalwell of Fang’s alleged espionage ties, he did cut off contact.
His office says in a statement to KPIX that “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.” There is no suspected sexual relationship, a distinction Axios also makes for Fang’s ties to Hawaii representative Tulsi Gabbard.
Fang is described as also volunteering for the unsuccessful 2014 congressional campaign of Rep. Ro Khanna (who did win that seat in 2016), and appears in fundraising event photos with former Rep. Mike Honda, former Cupertino mayor Gilbert Wong, and former Fremont mayor Bill Harrison. Fang suddenly disappeared, likely back to China, without explanation in 2015.
The cultivation of relationships with lower-level figures like mayors and city council is a “long game” tactic of Chinese espionage, the FBI feels. And the Bay Area is a particularly attractive target, given the concentration of the tech industry and the large Chinese-American population. Axios explains that “Close relationships between a U.S. elected official and a covert Chinese intelligence operative can provide the Chinese government with opportunities to sway the opinion of key decision-makers.”
And speaking of mayors, Axios adds “Fang attended events in support of former San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, according to an acquaintance present at the gatherings.”
Related: As FBI Cracks Down On Chinese Spies In Academia, One Researcher Is Reportedly Hiding Out at Consulate In SF [SFist]
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