Intelligence Oversight? Dianne Feinstein Employed A Chinese Spy For Several Years

from the all-about-that-transparency,-eh dept

Well, this is awkward.

Former intelligence officials told me that Chinese intelligence once recruited a staff member at a California office of U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, and the source reported back to China about local politics. (A spokesperson for Feinstein said the office doesn’t comment on personnel matters or investigations, but noted that no Feinstein staffer in California has ever had a security clearance.)

This detail, located in the middle of Zach Dorfman’s report on foreign spying in the Silicon Valley, doesn’t tell the whole story. The grand dame of intelligence oversight, the queen of surveillance, somehow managed to let a foreign spy tag along with her for several years — one employed by her for nearly two decades. Phil Matier and Andy Ross of the San Francisco Chronicle managed to get more details about this spying from a local source.

A local source who knew about the incident confirmed to us that the FBI showed up at Feinstein’s office in Washington, D.C., about five years ago to alert the then-chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee that her driver was being investigated for possible Chinese spying.

“Dianne was mortified,” said our source, who spoke to us only on condition he not be named.

The unnamed staffer was Feinstein’s driver and gofer when she was in the Bay Area and served as a liaison with the Chinese-American community. Apparently, he was recruited by someone in China during a visit to Asia.

That someone was connected with the People’s Republic of China’s Ministry of State Security.

The FBI interviewed the spy and determined he hadn’t passed on anything of value. I guess that’s a relief, but it also may indicate just palling around with Feinstein doesn’t result in much actionable intelligence. Of course, it may be the spy didn’t even know he was a spy. The SF Chronicle source says the suspected spy just considered his State Security a friend who liked to chat about US politics.

What should be concerning is how quietly this was handled. When intelligence oversight members can’t keep from being spied on by staffers, there’s a problem. It may be impossible to prevent every attempt, but having a long-time employee turn out to be a foreign intelligence source is more than embarrassing, it’s potentially dangerous. This was simply swept under the rug by Feinstein and never discussed publicly.

Trust isn’t a one-way street. Our surveillance oversight should be accountable to the public just as surely as the intelligence community should be accountable to its oversight. This should have been acknowledged and discussed publicly, not left to anonymous sources and/or FOIA warriors with the tenacity and funding to force the government to hand over documents dealing with its hidden screw-ups.

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Comments on “Intelligence Oversight? Dianne Feinstein Employed A Chinese Spy For Several Years”

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22 Comments
That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Dear Government,
How about you get your own shit in order before demanding anything from anyone else.
Perhaps then you will learn that all of your ideas from movies don’t work in the real world, and its stupid to keep demanding it.
Persistent ongoing threat… don’t tell me there was only 1, you just haven’t bothered to look for the others because you spend to much effort chasing boogeymen who have to wear black hats rather than do your job of securing yourselves.

Y’all suck.
No Love…
TAC

Bruce C. says:

The only problem I have with your POV on this story...

is that I can’t think of a way where it could be “unquietly” handled without other side effects that might possibly outweigh the public’s right to know. Once you go public with an item like this, it turns into both a political and diplomatic football. We also don’t have a lot of background on a) why it was handled this way — it could have been for an ongoing investigation rather than to keep Feinstein from suffering embarassment or b) how often this level of spying is identified among Senate and campaign staffers in general or intelligence committee members’ staff in particular. The second item isn’t a justification for keeping quiet as a general policy, but it can be a justification for not singling out Feinstein if this is a frequent occurrence.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: The only problem I have with your POV on this story...

It’s typical to handle this stuff quietly to avoid giving away intelligence sources. And any intelligence agency is going to try to infiltrate the intel committee staff, and the staffers without clearances are easy avenues because they don’t have to pass thorough background checks or report foreign contacts. If he didn’t get access to classified information this is a “dog bites man” story in which foreign intelligence managed an easy but low-value infilitration for a while, then got caught.

Anonymous Coward says:

I am sure the GOP will take this with maturity & w/o hypocrisy

Seriously – I expect the GOP led senate committees to go overboard in the months leading up to the election and waste millions of dollars reinvestigating this issue over and over again. Expect dozens of hours of committee hearings. Expect nearly every GOP Senate member to hit the airwaves denouncing this as a direct attack on democracy and proof of how the Dems are all foreign agents out to destroy America. Basically, flood the media with this story in the hopes that nobody will talk about Trump again or notice that the GOP has done everything they can to protect their own skeletons from ever having accountability.

What should happen? They should treat this as a serious breach. They should investigate in a non-partisan method with independent investigators. Then take appropriate actions. But this should not be some Benghazi situation where the GOP makes mountains out of a single grain of sand. Treat is seriously, but don’t go overboard.

Anonymous Coward says:

oversight? i doubt that. either because he was cheap labor or because she wasn’t interested in what else he ‘might have been’. however, you can bet your little cotton socks that had it been someone, anyone else who had a similar employee, she would have gone fucking ape shit! this is the trouble with having people like her in such powerful positions, positions that can and do affect so many others who she is supposed to represent! her mind set is one that is much to be desired considering everything has to be as she wants it and nothing else will do! he may or may not have been a ‘security threat’ but he still should NOT have been in the employ of a person in her position!!

Wesley Bidsnipes says:

The idea that he passed on nothing of value is laughable. If we’ve learned anything these past few years, even just metadata alone often gives surveillers enough of the picture that they don’t need more.

This man, at the very least, helped them rule out the possibility that Feinstein/Congress had found out about something they wanted to keep secret. When shit was going down, he could tell them “no, no one’s panicking”.

Anonymous Coward says:

The most likely explanation

“Of course, it may be the spy didn’t even know he was a spy.”

The Chinese use this tactic all day, every day — they’ve mastered it. Among its other features, it makes spies much harder to catch, because they behave completely normally and show no signs of guilt: of course not, they have no reason to think they’re guilty of anything. They also use layers of indirection: the handlers have handlers have handlers.

The downside of this is that they’ve can’t task these agents with specific items; the upside is that they can quietly use them for years or decades without being noticed.

And if you think this is the only one with access (of some degree) to Congress members, then you’re dreaming.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: So... Diane could be considered a "Chinese pawn"...

There are differences between accusation and fact, in some cases the differences make it silly to even attempt comparisons.

The infowars thing is a non starter – why do you think it is?
Did Obummer censor poor poor infowars? LOL. Did a private corporation violate the 1st amendment rights of Alex? LMAO. Does not float dude as your dingy has a huge hole it it.

John Snape (profile) says:

Re: Re: So... Diane could be considered a "Chinese pawn"...

Did a private corporation violate the 1st amendment rights of Alex?

With huge swaths of the internet being controlled by just a few companies, they have the ability to effectively silence anyone they dislike.

Imagine you are told you have the right to travel freely across the United States, but you can’t use the freeway, airlines or rails and you can’t travel faster than 35 mph. Can you enjoy that right just as everyone else does?

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