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An employee of the U.S. State Department could be facing 25 years in prison if found guilty of the charges filed against her by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

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The federal agency has arrested and charged the employee for denying her links with Chinese intelligence agents and for providing U.S. inside information to the agents as well as receiving thousands of dollars in gifts from them for about five years.

The Financial Times said that the FBI arrested Candice Claiborne, 60, on Tuesday, March 28, and charged her with obstructing an official proceeding. She had been charged with two felony offenses, with a maximum total sentence of 25 years in prison.

According to the complaint filed by Kellie O'Brien, an FBI counter-intelligence agent in Washington, Claiborne had admitted helping Chinese intelligence agents by providing "information about a dissident who was being secretly housed at the embassy."

Claiborne, also confessed to handing out to Chinese agents unclassified economic reports, which she insisted was "nothing compromising".

"Claiborne used her position and her access to sensitive diplomatic data for personal profit," Mary McCord, acting assistant attorney general for national security, said.

Claiborne, who worked for the State Department since 1999 as an office management specialist, had been assigned in Beijing, Washington, Baghdad, Shanghai and Khartoum. At the time of her arrest, she worked in the Office of Caucasus affairs and regional conflicts at the State Department headquarters.

Claiborne made her first court appearance on Wednesday, March 29, and pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Cash in exchange of information

According to the FBI, Claiborne started working for the Chinese in May 2011. She received $2,500 in her bank account, a month after the Chinese asked her for information on U.S. views of the Strategic and Economic Dialogue, a meeting held in Washington every year.

Three other unidentified persons were charged as co-conspirators in the FBI complaint filed in the U.S. District for the District of Columbia. The FBI said that two were Chinese intelligence agents of the Shanghai State Security Bureau and Claiborne's 34-year-old male American friend, who lives with her.

The FBI said that Claiborne received gifts from the Chinese, directly or through her male friend. The gifts include a $4,000 vacation to Thailand, an Apple iPhone and MacBook computer and free hotel stays in China. The Chinese also paid the young man's $12,000 tuition in a fashion school, and an additional $35,000 to finish his studies.

The FBI added that although State Department regulations require her to report such contacts, Claiborne continued communicating with the Chinese. She even denied communicating with any foreign agents or receiving gifts during an interview for the renewal of her security clearance in Sept. 2015.

U.S. federal agents said that they intercepted phone calls Claiborne made near her government office as well as emails among the co-conspirators. Through a court-ordered search, FBI located the emails between the State Department employee and her Chinese handlers.

In January, an undercover FBI agent approached and talked to Claiborne, who "invited him into her home, where they talked for almost 1.5 hours," the FBI said.

Claiborne's arrest came 10 years after Donald Keyser, a State Department official, pleaded guilty to delivering classified U.S. documents to a Taiwanese intelligence agent and lying to investigators about it.