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To steal secrets, spies from China bide their time, former FBI agent says

FILE: Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., right, speaks during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, June 24, 2020, on oversight of the Justice Department and a probe into the politicization of the department under Attorney General William Barr. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, Pool)

SALT LAKE CITY — When it comes to stealing US government secrets, China and its spies are prepared to play the long game, according to a former FBI agent who used to work in Utah.

A Chinese national named Fang Fang, or Christine Fang, allegedly targeted up-and-coming local politicians in the Bay Area in Northern California and across the country who were likely to become successful on the national stage, according to Axios.

Target selected

U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., was the most high-profile of Fang’s targets. She was involved in his 2014 re-election campaign, according to a Bay Area political operative and a U.S. intelligence official, Axios reported, but the political operative, who witnessed Fang fundraising on Swalwell’s behalf, found no evidence of illegal contributions.

Retired FBI supervisor Karl Schmae spoke with KSL’s Dave Noriega and Debbie Dujanovic about the  20-something-year-old Fang who came to the US purportedly to attend college in the San Francisco Bay Area, but she ended up infiltrating political campaigns.

Schmae said the scheme Swalwell got caught up  in is called a “honey pot,” where an attractive woman is used to put a high-value male target into a compromising position — describing it as a favorite method for spies from China.

“This really shows you how persistent and how patient the Chinese are,” Schmae explained. 

China spies: the long game

Swalwell has refused to confirm or deny whether he had a sexual or romantic relationship with Fang. Swalwell’s office did not respond Friday to a request for comment from Fox News asking again about the nature of his relationship with Fang.

In 2010, beginning with his time as a Dublin (Calif.) city councilor, Fang targeted Swalwell as reported by Business Insider on Dec. 8.

Swalwell was first elected to the US House in 2012.

“[Dublin] is a small town in the Bay Area, so he’s kinda a nobody, right? He’s a small-town politician.  . . . If she’d been operating in Utah, this would be like if she targeted some guy in St. George or Heber City. . . The Chinese are willing to play the long game. They’re hoping these guys will come up through the ranks and rise up to national prominence, get elected to national office and then be in a position where they have access to some of our country’s most sensitive secrets,” Schmae said.

Cutting ties

As the counterintelligence probe grew, federal investigators became so alarmed by Fang’s behavior and activities that around 2015 they alerted Swalwell to their concerns. Swalwell immediately cut off all ties to Fang, according to a U.S. intelligence official. He has not been accused of any wrongdoing, according to the Axios report.

Swalwell is a member of the House Intelligence Committee and the House Judiciary Committee. He also ran for president of the United States but withdrew before the Democratic convention in August 2020.

“One thing that we should point out is that while this romancing of Swalwell was going on, allegedly, as reported by Axios,” Schmae said, “. . . this was kinda before he was on the House Committee for Intelligence. What we have to remember is this is an old case. This was from five years ago.”

“She got the heck out of here”

When the FBI informed Swalwell what was happening, Fang “caught wind that the FBI was on to her and fled” the United States, said Schmae. 

“What happens if you catch the spot? What’s the consequences?” Dave asked.

“So if she had been caught, she could’ve been charged with espionage — capital offense. That’s why she got the heck out of here,” Schmae replied. 

He explained that a foreign diplomat or ambassador on official business who is caught spying would be expelled from the United States and not face jail time because international envoys have diplomatic immunity.

“But someone like Christine Fang, she could have gone to jail for life or faced capital punishment, potentially. That’s why she got the heck out of here,” Schmae said.

Dave & Dujanovic can be heard weekdays from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app, a.s well as Apple Podcasts and Google Play.