Her earliest known engagement with the congressman was through the Chinese Student Association, back when Swalwell was still a Dublin City council member. Fang had developed close ties to his office and had risen in local political circles by 2014.
Fang raised money for Swalwell in her capacity as a bundler for the congressman, which a current U.S. intelligence official confirmed. Bundlers such as Fang persuade others to write checks for politicians' campaigns, bringing in huge amounts of funds and deepening the campaign's engagement with target communities. In addition, she facilitated the potential assignment of interns into Swalwell's office – with one intern backed by Fang being assigned to the representative's Washington, D.C. office.
Two Midwestern mayors were also included in Fang's list. First, she struck up a relationship with an older mayor "from an obscure city." Former Cupertino Mayor Gilbert Wong told Axios that this older mayor referred to Fang as his "girlfriend" and insisted the relationship between them was genuine during a 2014 conference in Washington. Fang also had a sexual encounter with an Ohio mayor inside a vehicle electronically monitored by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI): She reportedly lured in the Ohio mayor by asking him to help her improve her English.
The FBI surveilled Fang after federal agents caught wind of her activities, with the bureau's San Francisco office warning politicians of her ties with China. She abruptly left the U.S. in 2015 to the confusion of her political contacts and has not returned since. Wong remarked: "She disappeared off the face of everything."
Meanwhile, Swalwell's office told Axios in a statement that he "provided information" about Fang to the FBI and cut ties with her in 2015 following a defensive briefing. No case was filed against Fang.
Targeting Swalwell made sense for Fang: The congressman's 2012 campaign against a longtime incumbent relied heavily on Asian American support, a former East Bay congressional staffer said. His campaign's reliance on Asian American support made ties to the Chinese-American community especially important.
In addition, intelligence officials and numerous political figures said Fang attended conferences for mayors around the U.S., going to extraordinary lengths to meet and befriend politicians as part of her espionage activities. (Related: Chinese espionage operations in the U.S. are "off the scale," warns analyst.)
Former Fremont Mayor Bill Harrison told Axios that FBI officials contacted him in August 2015 and warned him about Fang's suspected activities in the Bay Area. He added that bureau agents said her activities were part of a "long-game play" aimed at local politicians, with the strategy being "to strike up a relationship with you and see if you move up the line."
Harrison knew Fang because she volunteered in his office and participated in numerous local political and community events.
Fang's case mirrors earlier espionage attempts by naturalized American citizen Baimadajie Angwang, who authorities arrested in September over allegations that he spied for China. The 33-year-old ethnic Tibetan who was a member of the New York City Police Department (NYPD) used his law enforcement position to report on the activities of ethnic Tibetans, assess potential ethnic Tibetan intelligence and liaise with consulate and senior NYPD officials.
The FBI said in a complaint that Angwang has been "in frequent communication" with a Chinese consular official since June 2018. An intercepted phone call between the NYPD officer and the consul official revealed that Angwang proposed to relay information about the police department's inner workings to the Chinese consulate. Angwang even suggested that the said official attend NYPD's events as a gesture "to raise [China's] soft power."
Later that month, the South China Morning Post reported that a federal judge in New York state denied Angwang bail. Magistrate Judge Roane Mann granted prosecutors' request for continued detention, as the law enforcement officer may use his ties to China to avoid the law.