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Dec. 10, 2020
Notes from the Pentagon

Security questions raised about Swalwell and China

By Bill Gertz
Rep. Eric Swalwell, a liberal California Democrat who last year for a short time was a Democratic presidential candidate, is under fire for his relationship with a Chinese national suspected of being an agent of the Ministry of State Security, the Chinese intelligence service.

Mr. Swalwell has been among the Democrats’ most vocal advocates of the accusation that President Trump is a Russian agent. He is on record stating frequently in cable television interviews that he thinks the president is a tool of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

At the same time, Mr. Swalwell has earned a reputation for not viewing China as what Trump administration policy and intelligence officials have called the greatest threat facing the United States.

Were his soft views on China influenced by the woman known as Fang Fang, the suspected MSS agent?

Mr. Swalwell isn’t saying. A spokesman for the congressman could not be reached for comment.

However, the congressman told Politico that he thinks the disclosure is part of an attempt by Mr. Trump to smear him for his outspoken criticism.

The Chinese spy service likely targeted Mr. Swalwell early in his career, dispatching Ms. Fang to help him when he was a city council member in the San Francisco Bay Area. She would end up working as a fundraiser for Mr. Swalwell and helped him by placing an intern within his congressional office, according to a yearlong investigation by the newsletter Axios.

Mr. Swalwell said he cut off relations with Ms. Fang after the FBI alerted him in a 2015 briefing to the fact that Ms. Fang had contacts with Chinese Consulate officials in San Francisco.

While frequently voicing hawkish views on Russia, his views on the China threat have been relatively benign.

The disclosures about his relationship with Ms. Fang have raised questions about her influence. The Chinese agent reportedly also had affairs with two Midwestern mayors, including one fling in the car of an Ohio officeholder who was not identified by name.

A review of Mr. Swalwell’s comments during open hearings of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence shows he disagreed with those who said China was aggressively interfering in U.S. elections and that Moscow is the sole threat to meddle in American campaigns. During a committee hearing Oct. 2, Mr. Swalwell rejected the intelligence community’s view that China and Russia were acting equally during the 2020 election campaign.

The congressman insisted during a hearing on the politicization of intelligence that Russia is a greater threat than China when it comes to such interference.

“I can say in open session that is false, and it is false for the American people to walk away and believe that there is any equivalence between what Russia and China are doing,” he said.

Mr. Swalwell then went on to criticize Trump administration officials for directing intelligence analysts to expand the scope of election interference reporting to include China, “even though the intelligence community’s public statements indicate that only Russia is engaged in active measures to denigrate one candidate and support another.”

The American people, Mr. Swalwell argued, need to know that Mr. Trump “cannot win an election without Russian interference or sabotaging the mail or conveying misinformation and inciting violence.”

He accused the Office of the Director of National Intelligence of trying to minimize the Russian threat by saying China and Iran were also conducting election interference activities.

“The evidence shows that there’s just one country that has a preference for Donald Trump, that is trying to tear down Joe Biden, has a prior in the past, has greater scope, capability, and intent than any of the other countries, and that’s Russia,” Mr. Swalwell said. “There’s a lot more I wish I could say about that, but the president and his team are trying to keep it from the American people.”

Mr. Swalwell has also rejected the statement made in October by DNI John Ratcliffe, and repeated last week, that China poses the greatest national security threat to the United States.

The statement “does not match what we have been briefed on privately and what people have been let go for, in public reporting at least, for telling the congressional committees,” he told MSNBC.

Vice President Mike Pence, for one, believes Chinese election meddling is more significant than the threat posed by the Russians.

In October 2018, Mr. Pence, quoting a senior career intelligence official, said that “what the Russians are doing pales in comparison to what China is doing across this country” to influence elections and policies.

FBI Director Christopher Wray also pushed back against questions from Mr. Swalwell about the extent of Chinese influence operations during an intelligence committee hearing in February.

“Certainly, other countries like China, for example, have very active, malign foreign influence efforts in this country,” Mr. Wray said. “Theirs is a little bit different than the efforts [by Russia] that I was just describing, but it’s still very, very active and very serious.”

Mr. Swalwell has suggested that China may exploit the devastating impact of the pandemic by seeking to develop biological weapons against the country in the future. He rejected reports that the novel coronavirus was part of a Chinese biological arms program.

Mr. Swalwell told Politico that Ms. Fang “was unsuccessful in whatever they were trying to do” and that he does not expect to lose his seat on the intelligence committee.

China has abandoned the strategic deception first promoted in the 1970s that Beijing must bide its time and build it capabilities, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said this week.

Under President and Communist Party Chairman Xi Jinping, China has grown “increasingly aggressive” domestically and internationally, he told The Wall Street Journal.

Mr. Pompeo has been the Trump administration’s most outspoken critic of China, noting the crackdown on ethnic Uighurs, who have been placed in concentration camps, and the takeover and militarization of disputed islands in the South China Sea.

“There is a different China than 10 or 15 or 20 years ago as a direct result of decisions that the Chinese Communist Party has made, and that forces the United States to take real action, serious actions, the one that the Trump administration has taken to protect the American people and indeed to build alliances around the world so that the West can continue winning,” Mr. Pompeo said.

Mr. Pompeo said China has reached the point where its power is allowing Mr. Xi to abandon the approach of the late predecessor Deng Xiaoping, who urged the Chinese to “bide our time, build our capabilities.”

“They no longer do that,” Mr. Pompeo argued. “They believe that they are now in a place where they can make clear their intentions, whether it’s the Made in China 2025 [technology acquisition plan], or the Belt and Road Initiative, or whatever actions they may take, putting weapons on the islands in the South China Sea. They now very clearly have demonstrated what I think we have known for a long time. They were intent on it; we were naive.”

The secretary of state said 50 years of American policies, both Republican and Democratic, mistakenly sought engagement and trade that “would lead the Chinese Communist Party to behave like a normal nation or leaders of a normal nation.”

“It’s clearly the case that they have chosen not to do that,” he said. “I think that’s abundantly apparent to just about everyone in the world today, and now the world’s duty is to respond to this in a way that protects the things that we most value.”

Chinese deception, Mr. Pompeo continued, is most evident in the multiple false stories put out by China on the origin of the coronavirus that first appeared in Wuhan in December.

“It’s a massive disinformation game emanating from China,” he said.

Beijing has propagated three false narratives: that American soldiers spread the virus in China, that it began in Italy, and, most recently, the false claim that it originated from outside China in frozen food packaging.

“This is a massive disinformation campaign. We know precisely where the virus emanated from,” he said.

Veteran China hand Michael Pillsbury has been appointed chairman of the Defense Policy Board, which this space recently reported had been dominated by pro-China experts and former Obama administration officials. Mr. Pillsbury, with the Hudson Institute, is the author of “The Hundred-Year Marathon,” a book about China’s drive for world domination.

Also appointed as a member of the board was Lisa Gordon-Hagerty, a former administrator of the Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration.

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.

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