Axios is out Tuesday with the results of a yearlong investigation that makes some big claims about Chinese espionage tactics. The story by Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian focuses on a young woman identified as Christine Fang, or Fang Fang, who established herself as a presence in Bay Area politics, first as a university student leader and later as a fundraiser for up-and-coming politicians. The story asserts that Fang, a Chinese national, worked in cahoots with China's top spy agency and slowly widened her political circle across the nation from 2011 to 2015. The most salacious allegation is that she had a sexual or romantic relationship with two (unidentified) Midwestern mayors as part of her plot to cultivate contacts. This was a "long game," according to the story, with the goal of establishing ties with small-time politicians who might reach the national stage down the line.
One of the biggest targets was Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell of California, who was a city council member when Fang began working with his office. She would later raise funds for his congressional races, and she also raised money for Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, both of whom ran for president in 2020. Swalwell's office says he cut ties with Fang in 2015 when the FBI alerted him about their suspicions, and a Gabbard spokesperson says the congresswoman has no recollection of ever meeting or working with Fang. The story says Fang returned to China in 2015 as an FBI inquiry gained steam and seems to have cut ties with all her US contacts. "The alleged operation offers a rare window into how Beijing has tried to gain access to and influence US political circles," writes Allen-Ebrahimian. Read the full story. (Read more espionage stories.)