Mid-April, the U.S. Department of State (DOS) received a wake up call when Candace Marie Claiborne was arrested for her unreported contacts with foreign nationals who were Chinese intelligence officers.  Claiborne, an Office Management Specialist, was serving within the Office of Caucasus Affairs and Regional Conflicts. She provides administrative support to that office director and deputy director as well as numerous other officers.

The Department of Justice’s (DOJ) 59-page criminal complaint details 10 years of unreported contact between Claiborne and individuals representing the PRC government, specifically the Ministry of State Security and its regional bureau, Shanghai State Security Bureau (SSSB).

PRC leverage

The PRC used multiple points of leverage to ingratiate themselves with Claiborne.

  • Claiborne’s personal finances were in disarray. The relationship allowed her to pocket $20,000 per year without any arduous effort.
  • Claiborne had a relationship with a 20-something unidentified male (perhaps a nephew or son of a close friend) who she had taken under her wing. The criminal complaint identifies him only as “co-conspirator A.”  This individual’s finances were also upside down. The PRC funded his travel, education, and residence because of their relationship with Claiborne.

Is this espionage?

Any intelligence officer would call Claiborne a cooperative and witting asset. Key indicators are:

  • She accepted and responded to direct tasking for non-public information.
  • She received and did not report money, gifts and other items valued at greater than $350 as a quid pro quo.
  • She took steps to keep the relationship clandestine.

These are the three hallmarks of espionage. We can expect additional charges to appear in the indictment of Claiborne.

Requirement to report foreign contacts

DOS regulations, Foreign Affairs Manual clearly details the need to report any contact with a foreign national. Specifically, 12 FAM 262.1-b”

 All employees and contractors must report:

(1)  Unofficial contact with a national from a country with critical HUMINT threat posts listed on the Department’s SETL if the employee and/or critical threat foreign national suggest, agree to, or actually have a second meeting after an initial encounter;

(2)  Contact and/or association with a person or organization whom the employee knows or suspects advocate the unlawful overthrow of the U.S. Government;

(3)  Contact and/or association with a person whom the employee knows or suspects is a member or supporter of foreign terrorist organizations (FTOs), as designated by the Secretary of State (This list is available on the Foreign Terrorist Organizations page.

(4)  Unofficial contact with a person whom the employee knows or suspects is a member of a foreign intelligence agency, regardless of nationality;

(5)  Illegal or unauthorized access that is sought to classified or otherwise sensitive information; or

(6)  The employee’s concern that he or she may be the target of actual or attempted exploitation by a foreign entity.

Over the years, Claiborne received thousands of dollars, gifts and other consideration from her Chinese intelligence officer contacts. The DOJ’s Acting Assistant Attorney General McCord notes, “Claiborne used her position and her access to sensitive diplomatic data for personal profit.”

Related News

Christopher Burgess (@burgessct) is an author and speaker on the topic of security strategy. Christopher, served 30+ years within the Central Intelligence Agency. He lived and worked in South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Central Europe, and Latin America. Upon his retirement, the CIA awarded him the Career Distinguished Intelligence Medal, the highest level of career recognition. Christopher co-authored the book, “Secrets Stolen, Fortunes Lost, Preventing Intellectual Property Theft and Economic Espionage in the 21st Century” (Syngress, March 2008). He is the founder of securelytravel.com