On April 24, the Department of Justice shared that Candace Marie Claiborne, a former employee of the U.S. Department of State, pleaded guilty to having a clandestine relationship with Chinese intelligence operatives. The plea deal charges Claiborne with the lesser charge of conspiracy and not espionage.

Claiborne served as an office management specialist with the Department of State. She had unfettered access to classified information during her career, which began in 1999. Her overseas assignments included, Baghdad, Khartoum, and both Beijing and Shanghai. It was during her assignments in China that Chinese intelligence made their approach to the State Department insider, befriending her, and ultimately recruiting her to provide classified and non-public information. Claiborne was arrested in March 2017, and at that time we noted the level of leverage the Chinese enjoyed over Claiborne.

These leverage points included financial disarray and her sense of responsibility for the well-being of a 20-something family member whose Chinese residency was part of the quid pro quo. The DOJ notes how she received, “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.” These were given to Claiborne for her own use or that of her family member.

Claiborne’s five-year clandestine, cooperative and collaborative relationship with Chinese intelligence operatives  was apparently memorialized by Claiborne in her journal (no doubt to the chagrin of her Chinese handlers). The DOJ notes how Claiborne references the level of remuneration being received with the journal entry, “Generate 20K in 1 year” in reference to her cooperation with the Chinese.

Her position as a State Department insider was highlighted by Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office Nancy McNamara:

“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. 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.”

To remind, all who enjoy the pleasure of having a national security clearance are mandated to report any and all foreign contacts of substance to their facility security officer.

Claiborne’s future will be determined July 9, when she will be sentenced by Federal Judge Randolph Moss. The sentencing guidance indicates the maximum sentencing for “conspiracy” is five years.

Claiborne may receive anywhere between zero and five years in prison, which is consistent with recent sentencing of others who have broken trust with the U.S. government and shared classified information in an unauthorized manner with media or foreign entities/governments.

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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).