Journalist Jerry Dunleavy just dropped a big scoop in a Twitter thread that he got from a former FBI official in the counterintelligence world on the spying dramas involving Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). The source not only provided some new details about the cases but also revealed how politicization affected the FBI’s handling of them.
In the Feinstein case, Russell Lowe was a U.S. citizen who was ethnically Chinese and worked as a staffer for Feinstein. He would also be a representative for her to the Asian-American community. Christine Fang (Fang Fang) was a Chinese national who got close to Swalwell.
But there was a problem.
Background: Both Christine Fang aka Fang Fang (of the Swalwell saga) and Russell Lowe (of the Feinstein saga) were believed to be co-optees of the Chinese Ministry of State Security (MSS) — the CCP’s intelligence & secret police agency response for foreign intelligence & counterintelligence operations worldwide.
Fang & Lowe were specifically interacting with & speaking to the MSS 12th Bureau (a CCP spy bureau with a heavy emphasis on foreign influence operations & political influence). […]
They both also had contact with Chinese intelligence officers at China’s consulate in San Francisco, and Fang & Lowe knew each other and were pictured together at China-related events.
What happened? The FBI essentially torpedoed the investigations in the two cases when they chose to give Feinstein and Swalwell defensive briefings because they were both on intel committees.
According to the source, the FBI believed, based on evidence they had collected, that Swalwell and Fang has a sexual relationship. Swalwell has always refused to confirm that. How would the FBI know this? According to the source, the FBI had FISA surveillance on Fang, who they believed had also been targeting other politicians as well. So a lot of her actions and communications were monitored. If they have recordings, what must they have collected? While the FBI didn’t think that she herself was a Chinese intel officer, they did think she was a compliant tool for them.
The source also said that the FBI opened a public corruption case on the Swalwell matter and he was the subject, and they were looking into any possible illegalities like foreign donations or bribery. But Swalwell has never been charged with anything, and the House Ethics Committee ended their investigation of him on the matter.
Fang was involved in fundraising activity for Swalwell’s 2014 re-election campaign, and FBI agents believed that Fang facilitated a small ($100 or $200 range) illegal foreign donation to Swalwell, according to the source. The congressman’s D.C. office also provided an internship for Fang’s family friend, per the source, with the FBI believing the internship was provided as a favor to Fang.
Swalwell was soon named to the House Intelligence Committee by Nancy Pelosi, and this prompted the FBI’s top leadership (colloquially known as the FBI’s 7th Floor) to decide to provide Swalwell with a defensive briefing in 2015, which effectively shut down the dual investigations by the bureau.
According to the source, there was heated disagreement about this briefing decision from the FBI agents involved, many of whom had wanted to keep investigating. The public corruption side did not want to close its case and wanted to keep investigating, the source said, and many of the case agents on the counterintel side did not want to close their case either and wanted to keep going too, but they were all overruled by FBI higher-ups.
When it came to Lowe, the FBI had been looking into him for some time and opened a case after he met with a Chinese intelligence officer in San Francisco. According to the FBI source, he also met with intel officers in China for years, as well as with other CCP officials in California when he worked for Feinstein.
Lowe was believed to have discussed a number of topics with Chinese intel officers while working as a Feinstein staffer, per the source, including Feinstein’s views, U.S. politics, international politics, U.S.-China relations, political views, and China-related controversies such as currency manipulation.
The FBI investigation into Lowe moved slowly for a few years. That FBI investigation was eventually moved from being a counterintelligence case to counterespionage case, the source said, and the FBI was legitimately concerned by what Lowe was up to.
But then, just as the FBI was finalizing the effort to get a FISA surveillance warrant on Lowe, it was stopped at the last minute.
There was initial approval to search Lowe’s home (he would regularly go over to China around December each year and so that is when the FBI planned the search for), the source said, but that was called off when then-FBI deputy director Sean Joyce instead decided to give Feinstein a defensive briefing in the latter half of 2013.
Instead, the FBI just interviewed Lowe and stopped the case.
The source said FBI agents were told by then-FBI counterespionage section chief Louis Bladel that the prevailing reason for the FBI deputy director briefing Feinstein rather than allowing the FBI to ramp up the investigation into Lowe was that the FBI needed Feinstein’s support and needed Feinstein on their side (she was chair of Senate Intel), likely specifically related to the FBI wanting her support on counterterrorism efforts.
The FBI agents working the case were pissed that they weren’t allowed to conduct the covert search against Lowe.
Once they gave her the briefing, Lowe stopped working for Feinstein. The FBI believed he was being run by China, according to the source, but that ended the investigation.
Dunleavy said the former FBI official from the counterintelligence world source said he believed this showed the politicization of the bureau, as well as the failures in dealing with Chinese operations against the U.S., particularly those targeting politicians. Their intervening stopped the investigations in the case of Democrats, but in the case of Donald Trump, the defensive briefing was used as a pretext for them to investigate Trump.
The problem with this is not only the politics but how then the alleged spying was never followed up on. We don’t know what they had or how we might have been compromised because they didn’t pursue it. That’s shocking, and such a thing can put us in danger when it involves people who wish us ill like China.