China's main civilian spy agency targeted U.S. politicians during an operation between 2011-2015, it was reported Tuesday.
A congressman was among the local and national politicians with whom a Chinese operative developed close ties, Axios reported following a yearlong investigation.
A woman named Fang Fang (aka Christine Fang) reportedly was at the center of the Chinese operation. She reportedly built relationships with young, ambitious local politicians who seemed destined for the national arena.
Although U.S. officials believe Fang did not acquire any classified information, the case "was a big deal, because there were some really, really sensitive [intelligence] people that were caught up," according to a senior U.S. intelligence official.
Politicians from San Francisco's Bay Area were of interest to Fang, who reportedly took part in the 2014 reelection campaign of Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif.
Swalwell's office told Axios in a statement, the congressman "long ago, provided information about this person – whom he met more than 8 years ago, and whom he hasn't seen in nearly six years – to the FBI."
Fang, then in her late 20s or early 30s, reportedly relied on taking part in fundraising activities, as well as romantic or sexual relationships, to get close to two Midwestern mayors. She learned private, but unclassified information, concerning government officials, including their habits and schedules.
It is believed Fang also attracted other people to act as unknowing operatives whom she helped place in local political offices.
Federal investigators became alarmed at Fang’s activities during a widening counterintelligence probe. They reportedly alerted Swalwell of their concerns about five years ago.
Fang's activities reportedly ended in 2015, when she left the country unexpectedly amid the investigation.
Concerns about Chinese intelligence operations remain. U.S. officials point to the Fang case as an example Chinese operatives are willing to invest time, even many years, to develop relationships that eventually could prove fruitful.
Neither the FBI nor the Chinese Embassy commented to Axios about the report.
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