Veteran Democrat Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, whose husband Richard C. Blum has significant business in China, employed a Chinese spy on her staff for 20 years. According to various reports, a Chinese man served on Feinstein’s staff in San Francisco while he reported to China’s Ministry of State Security (MSS). China focuses on San Francisco and the Bay area because of the large Asian community there and its proximity to Silicon Valley tech giants such as Apple and Google.
With a fortune estimated to be approximately $45 million, Feinstein is believed to be one of the wealthiest members of Congress. However, by some estimates, her husband’s holdings may be valued at $1 billion. Feinstein has been an inveterate proponent of closer bilateral relations with China. However, the Democratic party of California did not endorse her re-election bid for this year.
Politico reported that four former intelligence officials discovered that in the 2000s, Feinstein’s chauffeur to MSS. The informant also served as Feinstein’s gofer and was a liaison to the local Chinese community and even attended functions at the Chinese consulate in San Francisco. Reportedly, the man was fired but no charges were ever filed against him during the Obama administration, ostensibly because he was providing political intelligence, rather than classified information to his handlers. Intelligence officials surmise that the handler of the alleged spy received an award for his work.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the FBI arrived at Feinstein’s office in Washington, D.C., to alert her about their investigation into her driver. At the time, about five years ago, Feinstein chaired the Senate Intelligence Committee. A source told the newspaper that Feinstein was “mortified” by the revelation.
It was after the staffer went on a trip to Asia where he visited relatives that he became friendly with a person who remained in touch on later visits. The staffer did not know that he was being recruited by an agent of China’s principal espionage agency, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. According to the source quoted by the paper, the FBI concluded that the staffer had not revealed anything of substance. “They interviewed him, and Dianne forced him to retire, and that was the end of it,” said the source, who added that her staff was unaware of the subterfuge. “They just kept it quiet.”
In China’s official English-language China Daily newspaper, opinion writer Chen Weihua wrote in “Feinstein gives US a wake-up on spying” That “Veteran US Senator Dianne Feinstein probably never knew what it was like to be spied on until now.” Apparently triumphant that Feinstein has been caught in a Chinese espionage web, Weihua wrote that while she has been supportive of the U.S. intelligence community that she recently criticized the Central Intelligence Agency's alleged spying on the Senate Intelligence Committee's staff and computers. He said that Feinstein said that the CIA had broken the law and violated the separation of power principles found in the Constitution.
“The courage demonstrated by Feinstein, a Democrat from California and a supporter of US President Barack Obama, should be applauded, but the 80-year-old may not have changed her mind as much as people think.” Weihua deplored Feinstein for being concerned about alleged CIA spying directed at Congress but not espionage directed at the rest of the world.
Foreign intelligence agencies do not distinguish between classified and unclassified information. China has been especially effective, for instance, in stealing trade secrets from American companies. Also, China has long relied on its citizens living abroad to provide intelligence. For example, China utilizes its Chinese Students and Scholars Associations groups on university campuses, which are connected to Chinese intelligence agencies and local Chinese consulates. The Confucius Institute, which provides teachers of Mandarin to American elementary and high schools have also come under scrutiny.
With a large population, China uses travelers, business executives, students and cultural exchange visitors to achieve its intelligence objectives and obtain as much information as possible from a variety of sources. China's interest in trade secrets became a focus in the case of Apple employee Xiaolang Zhang, who was alleged to have stolen propriety information about Apple's self-driving vehicle technology to give it to a Chinese competitor. Zhang was charged with theft of trade secrets, not espionage. In another case, Walter Liew of the Bay Area was convicted in 2014 of selling of proprietary pigmentation formula worth $1 billion and owned by DuPont. It was turned over to a state-owned Chinese conglomerate.