US State Dept staff member charged over contacts with Chinese spies

WASHINGTON • A US State Department employee with access to sensitive information is accused of failing to report contacts with Chinese foreign intelligence agents who provided her with gifts in exchange for diplomatic and economic information.

Candace Claiborne, 60, was charged in a Washington federal court on Wednesday with obstruction of justice and making false statements to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

Claiborne appeared before a magistrate judge with her lawyer, Mr David Bos, but both declined to speak to reporters. She will remain under house arrest until an April 18 preliminary hearing.

A complaint said Claiborne was given tens of thousands of dollars in gifts and wire transfers by Chinese agents, beginning in 2011, in exchange for information about United States economic policy in relation to China and other diplomatic matters.

Claiborne and a co-conspirator not identified in court papers received such items as beads, a sewing machine, slippers, cash, tuition for a fashion school in China and an all-expenses-paid trip to Thailand, prosecutors allege.

"When a public servant is suspected of potential misconduct or federal crimes that violate the public trust, we vigorously investigate such claims," said State Department spokesman Mark Toner.

The charges against Claiborne were announced just ahead of an April 6 and 7 meeting between US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping at a time of heightened tensions between the world's two largest economies over North Korea, the South China Sea, Taiwan and trade.

Claiborne has worked at the State Department since 1999 and served in a number of overseas posts, including embassies and consulates in Iraq, Sudan and China.

She was monitored under a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court warrant, prosecutors said.

The charges carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison for obstruction of justice and five years in prison for making false statements to the FBI.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 31, 2017, with the headline 'US State Dept staff member charged over contacts with Chinese spies'. Print Edition | Subscribe