A veteran State Department employee with top secret clearance was in court Wednesday on felony charges of lying to federal investigators about tens of thousands of dollars she received from Chinese intelligence agents, according to court documents unsealed Wednesday.
Candace Marie Claiborne, 60, of Washington, D.C., was arrested Tuesday and appeared Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Washington. She could face as long as 25 years in prison if she's convicted of obstructing an official proceeding and making false statements to the FBI.
In an affidavit filed with the indictment, the FBI said Claiborne admitted having had repeated contact with two Chinese intelligence agents who provided her with cash and gifts — including overseas vacations, an iPhone and a fully furnished apartment for an associate — over many years.
According to the heavily redacted affidavit, Claiborne insisted that she turned over only unclassified information to the agents, who wanted know about internal U.S. assessments of U.S.-Chinese economic relations and U.S. strategies for putting pressure on the Chinese government.
The unredacted parts of the court documents include no explicit allegations that she provided classified or sensitive materials. At one point, in 2011, one of the foreign agents even emailed Claiborne to complain that information she provided "is also on the Internet," according to the documents.
Claiborne was released and ordered confined to her home with a monitoring device pending a hearing on April 18. No defense attorney is listed in the charging documents, and a call to Claiborne's number wasn't answered.
According to the FBI, the arrangement appeared primarily geared to help Claiborne pay her own debts and to cover the living expenses and education of an unidentified male design student from Los Angeles with whom she lived during multiple postings in China.
Claiborne is a career office management specialist with the State Department — an innocuous-sounding job but one that involves extensive overseas postings, coordination of senior officials' movements and handling of classified materials.
According to the FBI, she is fluent in Arabic, Mandarin Chinese and Spanish and has served two tours in Beijing, as well as postings in Shanghai, China; Baghdad, Iraq; Buenos Aires, Argentina; and Khartoum, Sudan.
The FBI alleges that over many years, Claiborne was in financial difficulty and accepted "tens of thousands of dollars" worth cash and gifts. Among the gifts was a fully furnished apartment in Beijing for the unidentified Los Angeles man, according to the affidavit.
The FBI said Claiborne frequently complained about her financial problems, some of which stemmed from a $9,000 tax bill. She once wrote in her journal that she could "Generate 20k in 1 year" by working with Chinese intelligence, it said.
The indictment accuses Claiborne only of lying to State Department and FBI investigators by not reporting the contacts — one of which was with an undercover FBI agent posing as a Chinese official three months ago.
Claiborne refused to accept a cash gift and declined to enter into a new information-sharing agreement with the undercover agent, according to the affidavit — but she still broke the law by not reporting the contact with someone she believed to be a foreign agent, in violation of her oath, it said.