Former @StateDept Employee Pleads Guilty to Conspiring with Foreign Agents

Former @StateDept Employee Pleads Guilty to Conspiring with Foreign Agents

 

 

 

This is a follow-up post to a 2017 case concerning a State Department employee arrested for concealing extensive contacts with intelligence agents from China (see @StateDept OMS Charged With Concealing Extensive Contacts With Chinese Intel Agents). Last month, USDOJ announced that Claiborne pled guilty to conspiring with foreign agents. Sentencing is scheduled for for July 9, 2019.

Download Claiborne Plea Agreement

Via USDOJ:

Former State Department Employee Pleads Guilty to Conspiring with Foreign Agents

Defendant Admitted Receiving Tens of Thousands of Dollars in Benefits From Two Chinese Agents in Exchange for Internal State Department Documents
Candace Marie Claiborne, a former employee of the U.S. Department of State, pleaded guilty today to a charge of conspiracy to defraud the United States, by lying to law enforcement and background investigators, and hiding her extensive contacts with, and gifts from, agents of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), in exchange for providing them with internal documents from the U.S. State Department.

The announcement was made by Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers, U.S. Attorney Jessie K. Liu of the District of Columbia, Assistant Director in Charge Nancy McNamara of the FBI’s Washington Field Office and Deputy Assistant Secretary Ricardo Colón, Domestic Operations, U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service.

The plea took place before the Honorable Randolph D. Moss of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

“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,” said Assistant Attorney General Demers.  “She withheld information and lied repeatedly about these contacts.  Violations of the public’s trust are an affront to our citizens and to all those who honor their oaths.  With this guilty plea we are one step closer to imposing justice for these dishonorable criminal acts.”

“Candace Claiborne broke the public trust when she accepted gifts and money from foreign officials, and then lied about it to State Department background investigators,” said U.S. Attorney Liu. “The United States will continue to seek to hold accountable those who abuse their positions of trust.”

“Candace Claiborne was entrusted with Top Secret information when she purposefully misled federal investigators about her repeated interactions with foreign contacts which violated her oath of office as a State Department employee,” said Assistant Director McNamara.  “The FBI will continue to investigate individuals who fail to report foreign contacts, which is a key indicator of potential insider threats posed by those in positions of public trust.”

“Our close working relationship with the FBI and the Department of Justice resulted in the conviction of Candace Claiborne who violated the public trust and damaged our national security,” said Deputy Assistant Secretary Colón.  “Diplomatic Security will continue working with our law enforcement partners to vigorously defend the interests and security of the United States of America.”

According to the plea documents, Claiborne, 63, began working as an Office Management Specialist for the Department of State in 1999.  She served overseas at a number of posts, including embassies and consulates in Baghdad, Iraq, Khartoum, Sudan, and Beijing and Shanghai, China.  As a condition of her employment, Claiborne maintained a TOP SECRET security clearance.  Claiborne also was required to report any contacts with persons suspected of affiliation with a foreign intelligence agency as well as any gifts she received from foreign sources over a certain amount.

Despite such a requirement, Claiborne failed to report repeated contacts with two agents of the People’s Republic of China Intelligence Service, 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, Chinese New Year’s gifts, international travel and vacations, tuition at a Chinese fashion school, a fully furnished apartment, a monthly stipend and numerous cash payments.  Some of these gifts and benefits were provided directly to Claiborne, while others were provided to a close family member of Claiborne’s.

In exchange for these gifts and benefits, as stated in the plea documents, Claiborne provided copies of internal documents from the State Department on topics ranging from U.S. economic strategies to visits by dignitaries between the two countries.

Claiborne noted in her journal that she could “Generate 20k in 1 year” working with one of the PRC agents.  That same agent at one point tasked her with providing internal U.S. Government analyses on a U.S.-Sino Strategic Economic Dialogue that had just concluded.

Claiborne, who confided to a co-conspirator that the PRC agents were “spies,” willfully misled State Department background investigators and FBI investigators about her contacts with those agents, the plea documents state.  After the State Department and FBI investigators contacted her, Claiborne also instructed her co-conspirators to delete evidence connecting her to the PRC agents.  She was arrested on March 28, 2017, following a law enforcement investigation.

Judge Moss scheduled sentencing for July 9, 2019.  Claiborne, of Washington, D.C., was ordered detained pending sentencing, but will self-surrender for said detention on June 5, 2019.  The statutory maximum penalty for a person convicted of conspiracy to defraud the United States is five years in prison.  The maximum statutory sentences are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes.  The sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the court after considering the advisory Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

The FBI’s Washington Field Office is leading the investigation into this matter.  The case was prosecuted by Thomas A. Gillice and investigated by John L. Hill, both Assistant U.S. Attorneys in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, and Deputy Chief Julie A. Edelstein and Trial Attorney Evan N. Turgeon of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section.

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FBI Employee Pleads Guilty to Acting in the United States as an Agent of the Chinese Government

Posted: 12:15 am ET
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Via DOJ | Defendant Collected and Caused Sensitive FBI Information to be Provided to the Chinese Government

Kun Shan Chun, a native of the People’s Republic of China and a naturalized U.S. citizen, pleaded guilty today to a criminal information charging him with acting in the United States as an agent of China without providing prior notice to the Attorney General.

Assistant Attorney General for National Security John P. Carlin, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara of the Southern District of New York and Assistant Director in Charge Diego P. Rodriguez of the FBI’s New York Field Office made the announcement.

Chun, aka Joey Chun, 46, pleaded guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge James C. Francis IV of the Southern District of New York.  He was an employee of the FBI until his arrest on March 16, 2016.

“Kun Shan Chun violated our nation’s trust by exploiting his official U.S. Government position to provide restricted and sensitive FBI information to the Chinese Government,” said Assistant Attorney General Carlin.  “Holding accountable those who work as illegal foreign agents to the detriment of the United States is among the highest priorities of the National Security Division.”

“Americans who act as unauthorized foreign agents commit a federal offense that betrays our nation and threatens our security,” said U.S. Attorney Bharara.  “And when the perpetrator is an FBI employee, like Kun Shan Chun, the threat is all the more serious and the betrayal all the more duplicitous.  Thanks to the excellent investigative work of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division, the FBI succeeded in identifying and rooting out this criminal misconduct from within its own ranks.”

“No one is above the law, to include employees of the FBI,” said Assistant Director in Charge Rodriguez.  “We understand as an agency we are trusted by the public to protect our nation’s most sensitive information, and we have to do everything in our power to uphold that trust.”

According to the complaint, the information and statements made during today’s court proceeding:

In approximately 1997, Chun began working at the FBI’s New York Field Office as an electronics technician assigned to the Computerized Central Monitoring Facility of the FBI’s Technical Branch.  In approximately 1998, and in connection with his employment, the FBI granted Chun a Top Secret security clearance and his duties included accessing sensitive, and in some instances classified, information.  In connection with a progressive recruitment process, Chun received and responded to taskings from Chinese nationals and at least one Chinese government official (Chinese Official-1), some, if not all, of whom were aware that Chun worked at the FBI.  On multiple occasions prior to his arrest in March 2016, at the direction of Chinese government officials, Chun collected sensitive FBI information and caused it to be transmitted to Chinese Official-1 and others, while at the same time engaging in a prolonged and concerted effort to conceal from the FBI his illicit relationships with these individuals.

Beginning in 2006, Chun and some of his relatives maintained relationships with Chinese nationals purporting to be affiliated with a company in China named Zhuhai Kolion Technology Company Ltd. (Kolion).  Chun maintained an indirect financial interest in Kolion, including through a previous investment by one of his parents.  In connection with these relationships, Chinese nationals asked Chun to perform research and consulting tasks in the United States, purportedly for the benefit of Kolion, in exchange for financial benefits, including partial compensation for international trips.

Between 2006 and 2010, Chun’s communications and other evidence reflect inquiries from purported employees of Kolion to Chun while he was in the United States, as well as efforts by the defendant to collect, among other things, information regarding solid-state hard drives.

In approximately 2011, during a trip to Italy and France partially paid for by the Chinese nationals, Chun was introduced to Chinese Official-1, who indicated that he worked for the Chinese government and that he knew Chun worked for the FBI.  During subsequent private meetings conducted abroad between the two, Chinese Official-1 asked questions regarding sensitive, non-public FBI information.  During those meetings, Chun disclosed, among other things, the identity and potential travel patterns of an FBI Special Agent.

In approximately 2012, the FBI conducted a routine investigation relating to Chun’s Top Secret security clearance.  In an effort to conceal his relationships with Chinese Official-1 and the other Chinese nationals purporting to be affiliated with Kolion, Chun made a series of false statements on a standardized FBI form related to the investigation.  Between 2000 and March 16, 2016, Chun was required by FBI policy to disclose anticipated and actual contact with foreign nationals during his international travel, but he lied on numerous pre- and post-trip FBI debriefing forms by omitting his contacts with Chinese Official-1, other Chinese nationals and Kolion.

On multiple occasions, Chinese Official-1 asked Chun for information regarding the FBI’s internal structure.  In approximately March 2013, Chun downloaded an FBI organizational chart from his FBI computer in Manhattan.  Chun later admitted to the FBI that, after editing the chart to remove the names of FBI personnel, he saved the document on a piece of digital media and caused it to be transported to Chinese Official-1 in China.

Chinese Official-1 also asked Chun for information regarding technology used by the FBI.  In approximately January 2015, Chun took photos of documents displayed in a restricted area of the FBI’s New York Field Office, which summarized sensitive details regarding multiple surveillance technologies used by the FBI.  Chun sent the photographs to his personal cell phone and later admitted to the FBI that he caused the photographs to be transported to Chinese Official-1 in China.

In approximately February 2015, the FBI caused an undercover employee (UCE) to be introduced to Chun.  The UCE purported to be a U.S. citizen who was born in China and working as a consultant to several firms, including an independent contractor for the Department of Defense, among other entities.

During a recorded meeting in March 2015, Chun told the UCE about his relationship with Kolion and Chinese nationals and later explained to the UCE that Kolion had “government backing,” and that approximately five years prior a relative met a “section chief” whom Chun believed was associated with the Chinese government.

In another recorded meeting in June 2015, Chun told the UCE that he had informed his Chinese associates that the UCE was a consultant who might be in a position to assist them.  Chun said that he wished to act as a “sub-consultant” to the UCE and wanted the UCE to “pay” him “a little bit.”   In July 2015, after coordinating travel to meet Chun’s Chinese associates, Chun met with the UCE in Hungary twice.  During one of the meetings, Chun stated that he knew “firsthand” that the Chinese government was actively recruiting individuals who could provide assistance and that the Chinese government was willing to provide immigration benefits and other compensation in exchange for such assistance.  The UCE told Chun that he had access to sensitive information from the U.S. government.  Chun responded that his Chinese associates would be interested in that type of information and that Chun expected a “cut” of any payment that the UCE received for providing information to the Chinese government.

The count of acting in the United States as an agent of China without providing notice to the Attorney General carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.  The maximum potential sentence is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the judge.

The FBI’s Counterintelligence Division investigated the case.  The prosecution is being handled by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Emil J. Bove III and Andrea L. Surratt of the Southern District of New York’s Terrorism and International Narcotics Unit, with assistance provided by Trial Attorneys Thea D. R. Kendler and David C. Recker of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section.

Related files: