01:02 - Source: CNN
Feds: State Department worker spied for China

Story highlights

Candace Claiborne allegedly failed to report thousands of dollars in gifts and other benefits

She has pled not guilty to all charges

CNN —  

A State Department employee with top secret security clearance has been charged with lying to the FBI about her failure to report thousands of dollars’ worth of gifts she allegedly received from two Chinese intelligence agents, federal prosecutors said Wednesday.

Candace Claiborne allegedly accepted cash, an iPhone, a laptop, meals, vacations and a fully furnished apartment over the course of several years in exchange for information, according to the complaint. The 60-year-old has worked for the State Department in several countries since 1999, most recently serving in an administrative support role as an office management specialist in Washington.

Claiborne was arrested on Tuesday and charged on Wednesday with obstructing an official proceeding and making false statements to the FBI.

Prosecutors said she was targeted by members of a Chinese intelligence program that seeks to “obtain information on political, economic, and security policies that may affect China, foreign intelligence operations directed at China, and biographical profiles of foreign politicians and intelligence officers.”

In one instance, the complaint alleges that one of the Chinese intelligence agents wired $2,500 into Claiborne’s bank account and then asked her for an “internal evaluation of the fruits and consensus” made by the US government at an economic conference with Chinese government officials. Claiborne responded with publicly available information, which prompted the spy to come back looking for clarification and asking her not to respond over email “because others also can catch it,” according to the complaint.

“When a public servant is suspected of potential misconduct or federal crimes that violate the public trust, we vigorously investigate such claims,” acting State Department spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement. “The Department of State is firmly committed to investigating and working with the Department of Justice and our other law enforcement partners to investigate any allegations of criminal activity and bring those who commit crimes to justice.”

When confronted by the FBI and State Department, prosecutors said Claiborne purposefully misled investigators and directed her co-conspirators to delete evidence detailing their interactions.

Claiborne also denied to investigators that any foreign contact had ever asked for “special favors” or had any influence over her.

“This case demonstrates that US government employees will be held accountable for failing to honor the trust placed in them when they take on such sensitive assignments,” said Channing Phillips, US attorney for the District of Columbia.

Claiborne pled not guilty to all charges at her first court appearance Wednesday afternoon. Her attorney declined to comment.

The charges of obstructing an official proceeding carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and making a false statement to the FBI carries five years in prison.

Claiborne will be back in court on April 18.

CNN’s Laura Koran, David Shortell and Mary Kay Mallonee contributed to this report.