The US faces more threats than just Russians playing around on Facebook, and this story from earlier in the week makes it clear that some are far more significant, too. Dianne Feinstein has served as chair and vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, depending on who controlled the majority, for the last nine years. As a leader on the committee, Feinstein had access to the nation’s most closely held secrets. And for a significant period of that time, China had a spy literally in her driver’s seat:
New details emerged Wednesday about how a mole for the government of communist China managed to stay by Senator Dianne Feinstein’s side for nearly 20 years.
It happened five years ago, but additional information is just surfacing about how the Bay Area senator’s office was infiltrated by a Chinese spy. …
Feinstein — who was Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee at the time — was reportedly mortified when the FBI told her she’d be infiltrated.
Investigators reportedly concluded the driver hadn’t leaked anything of substance and Feinstein forced him to retire.
Golly, they forced him to retire? The brutes! Why didn’t they prosecute him for espionage? Columnists Matier and Ross in the San Francisco Chronicle report that the driver might not have been aware of his recruitment:
According to our source, the intrigue started years earlier when the staffer took a trip to Asia to visit relatives and was befriended by someone who continued to stay in touch with him on subsequent visits.
That someone was connected with the People’s Republic of China’s Ministry of State Security.
“He didn’t even know what was happening — that he was being recruited,” says our source. “He just thought it was some friend.”
The FBI apparently concluded the driver hadn’t revealed anything of substance.
“They interviewed him, and Dianne forced him to retire, and that was the end of it,” says our source.
“None of her staff ever knew what was going on,” the source added. “They just kept it quiet.”
That explanation leaves a few gaps. Those with security clearances, such as a driver for a Senator on the Intelligence Committee should have needed, are required to report any and all foreign contacts immediately to either the controlling authority for their clearance or the FBI. At least when I had clearances, that point got repeatedly drilled into us during regular security briefings. That was especially for contacts with foreign nationals of hostile states, and China would surely have qualified as a hostile state in this context. If the driver never reported those contacts until the FBI started investigating the driver, that in itself would have been actionable.
Let’s not lose track of the reach of this compromised individual, either. The report from CBS and the Chronicle both make the point that this man was more than a driver sitting behind the wheel:
Besides driving her around when she was in California, the staffer also 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.
That progression certainly raises questions, too. He seemed very interested in moving up in the organization, no? The fact that this man didn’t report his contacts and pursued larger roles with a leading member of the Senate Intelligence Committee should be a huge red flag.
Furthermore, it’s interesting that this story didn’t get much more exposure than it has so far. A search for “Feinstein driver China” at the New York Times turns up no relevant hits even two days after the local CBS affiliate first aired the story. Ditto at the Washington Post, for that matter. The LA Times search turns up no hits at all. CBS notes these as “new details” on a five-year-old story, but it seems pretty clear that the story itself is new to almost everyone not already connected to it. Did that lack of coverage happen coincidentally, or do media outlets have a sharp lack of interest in espionage-penetration cases involving prominent Democrats?
“They just kept it quiet.” Indeed.