US diplomat gets 40 months in jail over Chinese agent ties

The case of Candace Marie Claiborne, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States, is one of several involving Beijing spies' recruitment of US officials with access to classified intelligence (AFP Photo/MARK WILSON)

Washington (AFP) - A US diplomat was sentenced to 40 months in prison Tuesday for lying to investigators about money she received from Chinese intelligence agents in exchange for US documents.

The US Justice Department said Candace Marie Claiborne, 63, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States in one of several high-profile cases involving Beijing spies' recruitment of US officials with access to classified intelligence.

She will also be fined $40,000.

Claiborne was a Department of State office management specialist based in Beijing and Shanghai who became involved beginning in 2007 with two men the Justice Department said she knew were agents of China's Ministry of State Security.

They gave her "tens of thousands" of dollars in cash and gifts in exchange for documents and information on State Department activities, it said.

Claiborne was arrested two years ago following an investigation but was not charged with espionage.

In April 2019 she admitted conspiracy to defraud the United States, lying to investigators and, as a government official with a high security clearance, illegally hiding her contacts with foreign agents.

She faced a possible 60 months in prison.

"Claiborne was entrusted with privileged information as a US government employee, and she abused that trust at the expense of our nation's security," said FBI acting assistant director John Selleck.

"The targeting of US security clearance holders by Chinese intelligence services is a constant threat we face, and today's sentencing shows that those who betray the trust of the American people will be held accountable for their actions."

In May, ex-CIA officer Kevin Mallory, 62, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for spying for China.

And in the most significant case, also in May, former CIA officer Jerry Chun Shing Lee pleaded guilty to spying for Beijing.

Lee, 54, faces a possible life sentence.

Arrested in January 2018, he was suspected of having provided Beijing the information it needed to bring down a CIA network of informants in China between 2010 and 2012.

FBI Director Christopher Wray said in May that China poses the most serious intelligence threat to the United States.