US State Department Employee Faces Charges in Suspected Chinese Spy Case

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Updated: 12:38 PM, Sun November 05, 2023

US State Department Employee Faces Charges in Suspected Chinese Spy Case

A federal affidavit has revealed that Candace Claiborne, an office-management specialist with the US Department of State, is facing charges related to concealing a relationship with Chinese intelligence. The charges were unsealed by the Department of Justice on March 29, shedding light on her alleged association with China’s civilian intelligence service, the Ministry of State Security (MSS).

Unlike previous cases involving Chinese espionage or economic theft, this affidavit appears to be free from investigative errors. It does not contain the flaws that led to the dismissal of charges against individuals such as Temple University’s physics professor Xi Xiaoxing and National Weather Service employee Sherry Chen. However, it is important to note that Claiborne is innocent until proven guilty, and she pleaded not guilty at her hearing on April 18. The trial or plea will ultimately determine the truth of the matter.

The MSS, headquartered in Beijing, is a vast organization with departments and bureaus spread throughout China. While its primary focus is protecting state security within its jurisdiction, some of its subnational units conduct operations against foreign targets to support national policymakers.

Claiborne was involved with the Shanghai State Security Bureau (SSSB), a relatively obscure division within the MSS. Previous public instances involving the SSSB include the 2009 raid on the China offices of Australian mining firm Rio Tinto, as well as the FBI’s arrest of Glenn Duffie Shriver in 2010. Shriver, who had responded to an essay contest on US-China relations, was recruited by the SSSB while living in Shanghai.

The affidavit suggests that the SSSB operates both within China and globally. Claiborne’s SSSB contacts, referred to as Co-Conspirator B and Co-Conspirator C in the document, offered to meet her in Beijing or any other third country if she ever left the United States. Co-Conspirator B also mentioned business trips to Italy and Africa.

However, it is crucial to highlight the prevalent China connection in almost every espionage case. The SSSB’s surveillance and assessment activities likely occurred within China. Claiborne had known SSSB officers since 2007 or possibly earlier. During this time, she served in Buenos Aires, away from China for two years. Her second assignment in China was at the US Consulate General in Shanghai from 2003 to 2005.

The SSSB employs various cover arrangements, often allowing individual officers to develop their own disguises. These covers include anonymous government offices, think tanks, and businesses. Co-Conspirator B, for instance, operated an import-export company, a spa, and a restaurant, thereby appearing as an ordinary businessman. These establishments also provided employment to Co-Conspirator A, whose specific role within the SSSB remains undisclosed in the affidavit.

It is worth mentioning that Co-Conspirator B might be a cut out or co-optee of the SSSB. The affidavit defines a cut-out or co-optee as a trusted individual used to create a compartment between members of an operation, allowing secure exchange of material and messages. Such individuals often assume covers as diplomats, journalists, academics, or businesspeople. Co-Conspirator B’s description aligns with this definition, although the document does not clarify his specific position.

Co-Conspirator A’s relationship with Claiborne illustrates the MSS’s method of leveraging emotional ties to control agents. The affidavit provides limited information about Co-Conspirator A, but it is clear that he holds significance in Claiborne’s life, such as living with her in China from 2001 to 2005. Claiborne’s affiliation with the SSSB went beyond financial gain or document-sharing. The SSSB primarily used the funds it provided to support Co-Conspirator A’s education, employment, housing, and travel expenses. Claiborne repeatedly urged Co-Conspirator A to extricate himself from the relationship with Chinese intelligence.

Interestingly, the SSSB appeared to prioritize building a relationship with Claiborne over extracting intelligence information. Despite providing tens of thousands of dollars in gifts and benefits, the information obtained was minimal. For example, in 2011, four years into their relationship, the SSSB tasked Claiborne with gathering internal evaluations of the US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue. However, they expressed disappointment with her findings, as the available information was already accessible online. They sought insights that surpassed publicly available knowledge, believing that these would provide a deeper understanding of US government perspectives.

Overall, the SSSB’s handling of Candace Claiborne, as described in the case, adheres to conventional espionage practices. They established psychological leverage through Co-Conspirator A, exploited Claiborne’s greed through financial incentives, and seemingly neglected her concerns about security or plans to end the relationship productively. Counteracting Chinese intelligence demands adherence to counterintelligence fundamentals and professionalism, rather than a dramatic departure from previous practices.

Peter Mattis, a fellow at The Jamestown Foundation’s China Program and an expert on Chinese military and intelligence, emphasizes the importance of countering Chinese intelligence through effective counterintelligence measures. He highlights the need for a commitment to professionalism and fundamental principles to address espionage cases successfully.

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Sophia Anderson
Sophia Anderson
Sophia Anderson is an accomplished crime reporter at The Reportify, specializing in investigative journalism and criminal justice. With an unwavering commitment to uncovering the truth, Sophia fearlessly delves into the depths of criminal cases to shed light on the darkest corners of society. Her keen analytical skills and attention to detail enable her to piece together complex narratives and provide comprehensive coverage of high-profile trials, crime scenes, and law enforcement developments. Sophia's dedication to justice and her ability to present facts with clarity and sensitivity make her articles an essential resource for readers seeking an in-depth understanding of the criminal landscape. She can be reached at sophia@thereportify.com for any inquiries or further information.

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