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How a suspected Chinese spy targeted California politicians

A suspected Chinese Intelligence operative developed substantial ties with California law makers as part of a political operation at the direction of China’s Ministry of State Security, it has been revealed. 

An exclusive report detailing the alleged work of Chinese national Fang Fang, or Christine Fang, was published by Axios.  

Fang reportedly targeted budding politicians, including a US congressman, in California’s Bay Area and across the county from 2011 to 2015.

During her time in the US, Axios reports that Fang had her sights set on Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell, one of the youngest members of the House. 

Axios reported the Rep. Eric Swalwell (left) had several interactions with suspected  Chinese intelligence operative, Fang Fang (right)

Fang reportedly interacted with Swalwell at several events, helped fundraise for his re-election campaign and helped put at least one intern into his office.

The alleged operative also fundraised for Tulsi Gabbard, as well as had a romantic or sexual relationship with at least US mayors from the Midwest.

Fang’s suspected operations ended during the Obama administration when she fled the US amid a FBI counterintelligence probe. They first discovered Fang while reportedly surveilling a different person.

Axios noted that the investigation provided another look into Beijing’s efforts to influence US political groups.

Concerns about Beijing’s influence in the US has troubled the Trump administration and will likely continue into the Biden administration. 

Pictured: Fang Fang with then-Rep. Mike Honda and then-San Jose city Councilmember Ash Kalra in March 2014

Pictured: Fang Fang with then-Rep. Mike Honda and then-San Jose city Councilmember Ash Kalra in March 2014

Friends and acquaintances of Fang said she was in her late 20s to early 30s when she enrolled in California State University East Bay.

Axios reports that she served as president of both the Chinese Student Association and Asian Pacific Islander American Public Affairs (APAPA).

Fang reportedly used those positions to initially get her foot in the door with local political circles. She would invite lawmakers, political executives and Chinese consular officials to attend a series of prominent events she hosted.

Through a combination of fundraising, charisma and romantic relationships, Fang managed to place herself among Bay Area politicos. 

Many of Fang’s alleged operations were done under the disguise of APAPA, a group promoting civic affairs for Asian Pacific Islanders, sources told Axios, until she emerged as a mainstay in Bay Area politics.

Sources told Axios that some of Fang’s first known political contacts in the US included former Fremont Mayor Bill Harrison, Rep. Judy Chu and Swalwell. 

Fang reportedly used her positions in Chinese Student Association and Asian Pacific Islander American Public Affairs (APAPA) (pictured) to network with Bay Area politicians

Fang reportedly used her positions in Chinese Student Association and Asian Pacific Islander American Public Affairs (APAPA) (pictured) to network with Bay Area politicians 

Fang (right) posed with  Rep. Judy Chu before she fled the United States amid an FBI probe in 2015

Fang (right) posed with  Rep. Judy Chu before she fled the United States amid an FBI probe in 2015

In fact, a scroll through Fang’s Facebook page reportedly showed she was friends with Swalwell’s father and brother.

Their relationship began when Swalwell was a councilmember for Dublin City, California, and their earliest known interaction was facilitated through the Chinese Student Association.  

Swalwell would later become a Congressman in 2012. 

Fang portrayed herself ‘to be the connector between the Asian American community and members of Congress.  

A source told Axios that Fang served as a ‘bundler’ during Swalwell’s 2014 Congress re-election campaign on his behalf, meaning she convinced others to donate to his campaign operations. 

It’s an ideal position for an intelligence operative to hold, considering it could strengthen their ties to the campaigning official. 

During this time, Fang reportedly facilitated potential intern assignments for Swawell’s offices, including one placed in Washington D.C.  

But around 2015, a counterintelligence probe became so unnerved by Fang’s behavior that they alerted Swalwell with a defense briefing from the FBI.

The Congressman immediately halted any contact with Fang, a current intelligence officer told Axios. He has not been accused of any wrongdoing. 

Rep. Eric Swalwell (pictured) and his office stopped communications with Fang after a defense briefing

Rep. Eric Swalwell (pictured) and his office stopped communications with Fang after a defense briefing 

 His office provided a statement to Axios: ‘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.’

During her time in the US, Fang also helped with a fundraiser for Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard in 2013, per a flyer advertising the even on Facebook.

A spokesperson for Gabbard’s office told Axios she ‘has no recollection of ever meeting or talking with her, nor any recollection of her playing a major role at the fundraiser.’

Similarly, Fang also volunteers to campaign for Rep. Ro Khannah 2014 bid for Congress. He was later elected in 2016.

Khanna’s office told Axios he remembers seeing Fang at a number of Indian American political get-togethers, but the two never spoke. 

His office added that Khanna was not briefed  on Fang by the FBI and that her name does not appear in their staffing records. They noted that not records did not include all volunteers’ names.

Fang also helped with a fundraiser for Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (pictured)  in 2013

Fang also helped with a fundraiser for Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (pictured)  in 2013

Pictured (left to right): Fremont City Councilmember Raj Salwan (left) Ro Khanna and Fang at a September 2013 fundraiser

Pictured (left to right): Fremont City Councilmember Raj Salwan (left) Ro Khanna and Fang at a September 2013 fundraiser

Amid her alleged operations, Fang branched out to other US cities and attended conferences as a way to further her network.

Fang engaged in a sexual or romantic relationship with at least two Midwestern mayors over a period of three years, Axios reports.

And at least two of those sexual interactions with the politicians was caught on by the FBI during their surveillance of her. 

During a political conference in 2014, an unidentified, older mayor ‘from an obscure city’ called Fang his ‘girlfriend’ and reportedly insisted they were in a relationship.

Fang allegedly had a sexual encountered with an Ohio mayor in a car that was being surveilled by the FBI. 

When the mayor asked why Fang was interested in him, she responded that she wanted to get better at speaking English, Axios reports.

Meanwhile, US authorities discovered through surveillance that she often visited the Chinese consulate in San Francisco.

US officials don’t believe Fang received or passed on any classified materials, but her ability to easily network made the case ‘was a big deal, because there were some really, really sensitive people that were caught up,’ in the intelligence network, a current US intelligence officer told Axios.

 Axios reports that China’s intelligence operation splintered in mid-2015 when Fang fled the US as authorities continued investigating her. 

She reportedly had plans to attend a June 2015 event in Washington D.C., but suddenly said she couldn’t make it and needed to return to China.

‘When she left kind of abruptly, we all kind of scratched our heads,’ former Fremont Mayor Bill Harrison told Axios.

Since Fang’s probe, the FBI has placed importance on investigations into Chinese intelligence and influence operations. The agency created a unit dedicated to countering Beijing’s operations at state and local levels in May 2019.  


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