News that Rep. Eric Swalwell interacted with a Chinese intelligence officer is concerning. Christine Fang (also known as Fang Fang) interacted with Swalwell on numerous occasions and was involved in bundling donors for his campaign. This is a wake-up call for the nation.
Because Fang wasn’t just some random Communist Party sympathizer in America. She was an officer of China’s premier Ministry of State Security intelligence service. And while the extent of Fang’s relationship with Swalwell is not clear, Axios reports that she was engaged in a sexual relationship with two unidentified Midwestern mayors. This indicates a pretty apparent so-called “swallow” operation to leverage sex for secrets and influence. America must learn lessons here.
To start, we should note that this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Chinese intelligence activity on U.S. soil. We are reliably informed that thousands of Chinese intelligence officers and agents are now present on our soil. Their specific missions vary between stealing high-value U.S. technology and research, infiltrating civilian and military agencies, and influencing U.S. politics in ways favorable to Beijing. But China’s espionage ambition is vast. This is not an effort to take marginal advantage of U.S. economic and political power. It is an effort to undermine that power while simultaneously assisting China to replace America as the world’s preeminent power. If China succeeds in this effort, the consequences for our nation and all democratic nations would be significant.
China’s usurpation of the international order would mean its ability to dominate intellectual property as a condition for market access. It would mean China’s ability to turn the Indo-Pacific region into a thinly veiled Communist empire. It would mean the subjugation of our democratic structures to the Politburo in Beijing. In short, it would mean Americans and all peoples outside China being less prosperous and less free.
Still, it is the particular threat of China’s intelligence efforts on U.S. soil that should absorb our attention today.
Operating under diplomatic cover out of China’s embassy in Washington and its consulates in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, hundreds of intelligence officers spend their days identifying and targeting U.S. business, civil society, scientific, think tank, military, and government officials for recruitment, manipulation, or their use as access agents to other officials. These officers also target Chinese-American citizens who offer opinions contrary to Beijing’s interests or who have family members back in China. Those family members are then used as leverage points via which to blackmail Americans into Beijing’s service. This was a primary reason behind the State Department’s decision earlier this year to close China’s consulate in Houston. Too many Chinese intelligence officers were using that consulate as a base from which to travel to the homes and businesses of U.S. citizens and threaten them. This intolerable behavior deserves a much greater riposte from the U.S. government.
Nor, as we saw in Fang’s case, does the Chinese intelligence apparatus have qualms about using sex as a weapon. And while China has yet to replicate the Russian intelligence service’s penchant for assassinations on U.S. soil, it absolutely has the moral capacity for murder. Beijing would kill Americans on American soil were it confident of avoiding detection and retaliation for doing so. The key point is this: The Ministry of State Security and its Peoples Liberation Army intelligence counterparts are servants of a despicable regime. Considering that Beijing happily throws millions of its people into concentration camps, we should not underestimate its disregard for our interests.
So, what to do about China’s espionage threat?
While the FBI has now enshrined China-focused counterintelligence operations as a top priority, more can be done here. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his nominated successor, Antony Blinken, should make clear to Chinese Ambassador Cui Tiankai that he will be held personally responsible for the most egregious acts of espionage on U.S. soil. The Department of Justice should also be more willing to bring charges against Americans who have knowingly acted as undeclared Chinese government agents. We are told that political sensitivities have thus far prevented such prosecutions. And, considering that China actively uses students such as Fang as deniable access agents, the U.S. government should establish a visa task force to screen all applicants from China.
But there should be no doubt that Fang is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Chinese espionage on U.S. soil. How many Fangs are out there right now, undetected? We should want to know the answer. But more than that, we should want to make it harder for these spies to do their jobs — and to impose greater consequences on Beijing when its spies are caught.