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Christine Fang, or Fang Fang, a suspected spy whose reported mission was to network with and befriend up-and-coming American officials on behalf of China, remained Facebook “friends” with a number of her lesser targets for years after her cover was blown and she left the country in 2015.
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Among her most high-profile targets was Rep. Eric Swalwell, who cut ties with her after the FBI briefed him on her activities, also in 2015. But his father and brother were among dozens of people who remained on her Facebook friends list until this week.
While it’s unclear whether she continued to maintain the account herself or if her victims even realized they were possibly being spied upon, China likely was monitoring the feed to mine potentially useful information, experts believe.
“Information doesn’t have to be classified to be really valuable,” Daniel Hoffman, a retired CIA senior clandestine services officer, said Thursday. “So somebody’s Facebook page has a lot of personal information.”
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He suggested looking at your own Facebook for an example of what someone snooping could find.
To see what your account looks like from a stranger’s perspective on a desktop computer, you can navigate to your profile and click the eye-shaped “View As” icon beneath the right corner of your cover photo.
“Think about how valuable that would be to understand what makes you tick – pictures of your family, where you go, what you do, your vacationing, you could do a whole assessment of somebody based on that,” Hoffman said.
Furthermore, he said, China’s intelligence agency could engineer bots to run accounts, fooling victims into believing they’re in touch with real people.
“This would be Chinese intelligence with the spigot running from Facebook,” he said. “Valuable.”
Fang’s methods are nothing new from China’s intelligence apparatus, according to U.S. intelligence officials. She arrived at California State University, East Bay, in 2011 and used student extracurricular events to network with key figures, according to an Axios report published earlier this week.
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Fang’s cover as an exchange student allowed her to “hide in plain sight,” Hoffman said, and by networking with the right officials, she could use those ties to meet more.
She became president of the CSUEB’s Chinese Student Association, a now-defunct club at the school. Photographs from some of its events show Swalwell and other notable guests in attendance. The university even noted a woman named Fang Fang was a club member when it recognized her with its annual “Pioneer Pride Award” in the 2012-2013 school year.