(Photo: U.S. State Department.)
(CNSNews.com) -- Candace Marie Claiborne, 60, a long-time employee of the U.S. State Department -- starting in 1999 under the Clinton administration -- was arrested and charged with obstrucing an official proceeding and making false statements about her alleged contacts with agents of Communist China, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced.
Claiborne started at the State Department as an Office Management Specialist and she held a "Top Secret" clearance. Claiborne served in the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations, and in the first two months of the Trump administration. Over the years she held posts at embassies and consulates in Baghdad, Iraq, Khartoum, Sudan, and Beijing and Shanghai, China. She was arrested on March 28, 2017. She can speak Arabic, Chinese and Spanish.
“Candace Marie Claiborne is a U.S. State Department employee who possesses a Top Secret security clearance and allegedly failed to report her contacts with Chinese foreign intelligence agents who provided her with thousands of dollars of gifts and benefits,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Mary McCord in a DOJ statement.
“Claiborne used her position and her access to sensitive diplomatic data for personal profit," said McCord. "Pursuing those who imperil our national security for personal gain will remain a key priority of the National Security Division.”
“Claiborne is charged with obstructing an official proceeding and making false statements in connection with her alleged concealment and failure to report her improper connections to foreign contacts along with the tens of thousands of dollars in gifts and benefits they provided,” said U.S. Attorney Channing Phillips. “As a State Department employee with a Top Secret clearance, she received training and briefing about the need for caution and transparency. This case demonstrates that U.S. government employees will be held accountable for failing to honor the trust placed in them when they take on such sensitive assignments."
FBI Assistant Director in Charge Andrew Vale said, "Claiborne is accused of violating her oath of office as a State Department employee, who was entrusted with Top Secret information when she purposefully mislead federal investigators about her significant and repeated interactions with foreign contacts. The FBI will continue to investigate individuals who, though required by law, fail to report foreign contacts, which is a key indicator of potential insider threats posed by those in positions of public trust.”
According to the DOJ statement, Claiborne "failed to report repeated contacts with two intelligence agents of the People's Republic of China (PRC), even though these agents provided tens of thousands of dollars in gifts and benefits to Claiborne and her family over five years."
The gifts and benefits included "cash wired to Claiborne's USAA account, an Apple iPhone and laptop computer, Chinese New Year's gifts, meals, international travel and vacations, tuition at a Chinese fashion school [$47,442.00], a fully furnished apartment, and a monthly stipend," reported the DOJ. Some of these benefits allegedly were relayed to Claiborne through a co-conspirator, said the investigators. (See FBI statement.) Over the years, Claiborne allegedly received tens of thousands of dollars from Communist China.
Claiborne apparently wrote in her journal that she could "Generate 20K in 1 year" by helping one of the PRC agents, said the DOJ. That Chinese agent reportedly wired $2,480 to Claiborne and "tasked her with providing internal U.S. Government analyses on a U.S.-Sino Strategic Economic Dialogue that had just ended," said investigators.
Also, Claiborne apparently confided to a co-conspirator that her Chinese contacts were "spies." Further, she "willfully misled State Department background investigators and FBI investigators about her contacts with those agents," the affidavit states. "After the State Department and FBI investigators contacted her, Claiborne also instructed her co-conspirators to delete evidence connecting her to the PRC agents," according to the DOJ statement.
If convicted, Claiborne could face up to 25 years in prison. At a court appearance at the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, claiborne pleaded not guilty. A preliminary hearing on her case is scheduled for April 18. The FBI is leading the investigation.