A former U.S. State Department employee pleaded guilty on April 24 to conspiring with Chinese agents, after she admitted to receiving tens of thousands of dollars in gifts in exchange for providing internal department documents to China, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) said in a press release.
Candace Claiborne, 63, was accused of lying to law enforcement officers, and hiding extensive contacts and gifts from two Chinese intelligence agents—who rewarded her for complying with their requests to transfer State Department documents, according to the DOJ. State Department staff are required to report any contacts with suspected foreign intelligence agents and any gifts from foreign sources over a certain amount.
The gifts included cash, international travel and vacations, tuition at a Chinese fashion school, a fully furnished apartment, and a monthly stipend, according to the press release. They were provided to Claiborne and her family members over five years.
In return, the DOJ said Claiborne, who held a top-secret security clearance, provided documents on topics ranging from U.S. economic strategies to visits by dignitaries from the two countries.
“Candace Marie Claiborne traded her integrity and non-public information of the United States government in exchange for cash and other gifts from foreign agents she knew worked for the Chinese intelligence service,” Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers said in the press release.
Prosecutors said Claiborne knew about the Chinese agents’ identities because on one occasion, she had told a co-conspirator that the Chinese agents were “spies.”
Claiborne was arrested in March 2017, following an investigation.
According to the DOJ, Claiborne worked as an office management specialist for the department from 1999, and served at several overseas posts including in Baghdad, Iraq; Khartoum, Sudan; and Beijing and Shanghai, China.
Claiborne wrote in her journal that she could “Generate 20k in 1 year” working with one of the Chinese agents. That same agent, the DOJ said, on one occasion tasked Claiborne with providing internal U.S. government analyses on a U.S.-Sino dialogue that at the time had just concluded.
When Claiborne was contacted by State Department and FBI investigators, she instructed her co–conspirators to delete evidence relating to her contact with the agents, the DOJ said. She also purposely misled U.S. investigators about her contacts with the agents. Prosecutors didn’t elaborate on the co-conspirators’ roles.
Claiborne, who faces up to five years in prison, is due to be sentenced July 9.
She isn’t the only former federal employee to plead guilty to aiding Chinese spies this year.
In March, a former Defense Intelligence Agency officer admitted to spying for Chinese intelligence service. Ron Rockwell Hansen was accused of trying to transmit classified U.S. national defense information to China, and receiving “hundreds of thousands of dollars” while acting as an agent for the Chinese government. He faces up to 15 years in prison and will be sentenced in September.
Reuters contributed to this report.