A good, old-fashioned, spy thriller this morning, courtesy of – where else – the United States, where outspoken progressive Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell stands accused of getting, well, rather too close, to an attractive Chinese intelligence asset:
California congressman Eric Swalwell has refused to say whether he had a sexual relationship with a Chinese honeytrap spy because it is ‘classified’ as he blames President Trump for the revelations.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump Jr described him as a ‘threat to national security’.
It was reported by Axios on Monday that a Chinese national named Fang Fang or Christina Fang – allegedly an operative for China’s Ministry of State Security – targeted a group of Bay Area Democrats – including the congressman.
Perhaps it is unfair, but most people will read “refuses to say” as “refuses to deny”. It’s not an especially difficult question, after all. Most people would remember whether they were seduced and bedded by an attractive Chinese woman who was suspiciously interested in the workings of the US Government.
Swalwell is blaming President Trump for the fact that his relationship – whether professional, or less than professional – with the spy has become public. He is probably right. It is, after all, deliciously embarrassing, and suitably vengeance on Swalwell, who spent most of Trump’s presidency accusing the President himself of being either a Russian Spy himself or controlled by Russian Spies. In this instance, it might be possible to forgive Trump if his administration was responsible for leaking this little story.
But the story does not end with Swalwell. He is just the focus of the story, because he was such a notable critic of the President. The Spy, Christine Fang, had many more targets, according to axios:
She used political gatherings, civic society conferences, campaign rallies, and campus events to connect with elected officials and other prominent figures, according to U.S. intelligence officials, Bay Area political operatives, former students, and current and former elected officials who knew her.
She also engaged in sexual or romantic relationships with at least two mayors of Midwestern cities over a period of about three years, according to one U.S. intelligence official and one former elected official.
Go read the whole thing – it is very comprehensive. We’ve just picked out the juiciest stuff for you.
China, of course, has very good reason to be engaged in this kind of political espionage in the US, and in the EU, as well. With more and more concern about its human rights abuses at home, and its repression of democracy in Hong Kong, it needs all the friends it can make. Compromising politicians with sexual, or other favours, is a straightforward old move straight from the KGB cold-war handbook.
The objective is twofold – to reduce political hostility towards China, and reduce the volume of criticism of the Chinese Government, in the first instance, and to achieve policy wins for the Chinese state in the second instance. Swalwell, for instance, was a harsh critic of Trump’s policy of instituting punitive sanctions on China for its manipulation of its own currency, and other trade shenanigans.
China also wants to ensure, for example, that the climate change debate in western countries remains firmly focused on what western nations are doing to sabotage their own economies in the name of reducing emissions, and doesn’t drift into wondering why China – which is the world’s biggest polluter of the oceans – gets away so lightly in these debates.
The obvious question to ask here is whether Swalwell, and those Midwestern Mayors, are the only western politicians who are being targeted by attractive ladies who are on the payroll of Beijing. It is hard to imagine that they are.
In recent years, there’s been a drift towards the press treating politicians private lives as off-limits – you’ll never hear a story, in the Irish media, for example, about which politicians are having affairs, or that sort of thing. But there’s another reason, aside from our old-fashioned enjoyment of a bit of scandal, to wish for that to change.
What the Chinese allegedly did to Swalwell is one of the easiest ways to compromise any person – in politics, or outside. The honey trap is one of the oldest tactics of hostile countries because it works.
We now have indisputable evidence that China is employing these tactics, at least in the US. There is absolutely no reason to believe that they would not employ the same tactics in Ireland, or in Europe. Journalists, and law enforcement agencies, should be alert to it.