THE FEDERALIST – BEN WEINGARTEN
“I sometimes say that in my last life maybe I was Chinese.”—Sen. Dianne Feinstein
As media, intelligence agency, and political scrutiny of foreign meddling is seemingly at its apex, a story with big national security implications involving a high-ranking senator with access to America’s most sensitive intelligence information has been hiding in plain sight.
The story involves China and the senior U.S. senator from California, and former chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Democrat Dianne Feinstein. It was buried eight paragraphs into a recent Politico exposé on foreign efforts to infiltrate Silicon Valley, as a passing example of political espionage:
Former intelligence officials…[said] 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.)
Later comes additional detail:
According to four former intelligence officials, in the 2000s, a staffer in Senator Dianne Feinstein’s San Francisco field office was reporting back to the MSS [China’s Ministry of State Security, its intelligence and security apparatus]. While this person, who was a liaison to the local Chinese community, was fired, charges were never filed against him. (One former official reasoned this was because the staffer was providing political intelligence and not classified information—making prosecution far more difficult.) The suspected informant was ‘run’ by officials based at China’s San Francisco Consulate, said another former intelligence official. The spy’s handler ‘probably got an award back in China’ for his work, noted this former official, dryly.
This anecdote provides significantly more questions than answers. For starters: Who was the spy? For how long was the spy under surveillance? What information about “local politics” was the spy passing back to China? Just how close was the spy to the senator? Did law enforcement officials sweep vehicles and other areas for listening devices? Was there an investigation into whether others in the senator’s circle may have been coordinating with Beijing?
Did the senator expose herself to potential blackmail, or the public to danger through leakage of sensitive, highly classified information? Is firing really the proper punishment for providing political intelligence to a foreign power?
The Details Right Now Are Few and Blurry
We now know only the most basic of additional details about what occurred in Feinstein’s office. Five years ago, the FBI approached the senator to apprise her that a San Francisco-based staffer was being investigated under suspicion of spying for China. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Feinstein’s hometown paper, this staffer, who had worked with Feinstein for almost 20 years, drove her around in San Francisco and “served as gofer in her San Francisco office and as a liaison to the Asian American community, even attending Chinese Consulate functions for the senator.”
An unnamed source added that a Chinese MSS official first approached the staffer during a visit to Asia several years prior. Given his proximity to Feinstein, we have no idea what information he could have gleaned in her employ. We do have a presumed identity. The Daily Caller discovered that a Feinstein staffer named Russell Lowe, listed on the senator’s payroll as an “office director” as of 2013 before he was let go, matches the description of the Chinese asset.