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Friday, March 5th, 2021

Former State Department employee pleads guilty to conspiracy

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A former employee of the U.S. Department of State pled guilty to the charge of conspiracy to defraud the United States.

Federal officials charged Candace Marie Claiborne with lying to law enforcement and background investigators and hiding her extensive contacts with, and gifts from, agents of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in exchange for providing them with internal documents from the U.S. State Department.

“Candace Marie Claiborne traded her integrity and non-public information of the United States government in exchange for cash and other gifts from foreign agents she knew worked for the Chinese intelligence service,” Assistant Attorney General John Demers, said. “She withheld information and lied repeatedly about these contacts. Violations of the public’s trust are an affront to our citizens and to all those who honor their oaths. With this guilty plea, we are one step closer to imposing justice for these dishonorable criminal acts.”

Claiborne, 63, began working as an Office Management Specialist for the Department of State in 1999, according to the plea documents. She served in various overseas posts, including embassies and consulates in Baghdad, Iraq, Khartoum, Sudan, and Beijing and Shanghai, China. In those roles, she maintained a top secret security clearance. She was required to report any contacts with persons suspected of affiliation with a foreign intelligence agency as well as any gifts she received from foreign sources over a certain amount.

However, authorities found that Claiborne failed to report repeated contacts with two agents of the People’s Republic of China Intelligence Service, even though these agents provided tens of thousands of dollars in gifts and benefits to Claiborne and her family over five years. The Justice Department said the gifts and benefits included cash wired to Claiborne’s USAA account, Chinese New Year’s gifts, international travel and vacations, tuition at a Chinese fashion school, a fully furnished apartment, a monthly stipend, and numerous cash payments. Some of them were provided directly to Claiborne, while others were given to a close family member of Claiborne’s.

In exchange for these gifts and benefits, Claiborne provided copies of internal documents from the State Department on topics ranging from U.S. economic strategies to visits by dignitaries between the two countries, the plea documents stated. The agent at one point tasked her with providing internal U.S. Government analyses on a U.S.-Sino Strategic Economic Dialogue. Claiborne wrote in her journal that she could “Generate 20k in 1 year” working with one of the PRC agents.

“Candace Claiborne broke the public trust when she accepted gifts and money from foreign officials, and then lied about it to State Department background investigators,” U.S. Attorney Jesse Liu of the District of Columbia said. “The United States will continue to seek to hold accountable those who abuse their positions of trust.”

Claiborne willfully misled State Department investigators and FBI investigators about her contacts with those agents, the plea documents said. After the State Department and FBI investigators contacted her, Claiborne instructed her co-conspirators to delete evidence connecting her to the PRC agents. She was arrested on March 28, 2017.

“Candace Claiborne was entrusted with Top Secret information when she purposefully misled federal investigators about her repeated interactions with foreign contacts which violated her oath of office as a State Department employee,” Assistant Director in Charge Nancy McNamara of the FBI’s Washington Field Office said. “The FBI will continue to investigate individuals who fail to report foreign contacts, which is a key indicator of potential insider threats posed by those in positions of public trust.”

Sentencing is scheduled for July 9. Claiborne will self-surrender for detention on June 5. The maximum penalty for a person convicted of conspiracy to defraud the United States is five years in prison.

“Our close working relationship with the FBI and the Department of Justice resulted in the conviction of Candace Claiborne who violated the public trust and damaged our national security,” Deputy Assistant Secretary Ricardo Colón, Domestic Operations, U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service, said. “Diplomatic Security will continue working with our law enforcement partners to vigorously defend the interests and security of the United States of America.”