US

NASA Supervisors Charged in Chinese Spy Case

Two NASA supervisors were criminally indicted Tuesday under U.S. espionage laws for “willfully violating” national security regulations while allowing a visiting Chinese foreign national to gain “complete and unrestricted access” to the space agency’s Langley Research Center, according to the U.S. Attorneys office for the Eastern District of Virginia.

The indictments of NASA Langley supervisors Glenn A. Woodell and Daniel J. Jobson cap a federal investigation into the two supervisor’s decision to permit Bo Jiang unrestricted access for two years at Langley. Bo Jiang was deported back to China in 2013.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Lisa McKeel filed the indictments against the two NASA supervisors before the U.S. District Court in Newport News, Virginia on October 20.  The Daily Caller News Foundation obtained the indictments. Woodell and Jobson’s case will come before a yet-to-be named U.S. District Judge in the next few weeks, according to the U.S. Attorneys office.

McKeel charged Woodell and Jobson under Title 18 section 799 of the federal espionage statute, alleging their “failing to protect NASA information from unauthorized disclosure” and “continuing to allow a foreign national to exercise complete and unrestricted access to a NASA computer and the information contained.”

Woodell and Jobson also permitted Bo to travel home to China with a NASA-issued laptop that contained sensitive government information.

FBI agents arrested Bo at Dulles International Airport who tried to flee the country by buying a one-way ticket to Beijing in 2013. The Bo Jiang case was considered at the time as a prime example of lax national security awareness throughout the space agency.

The permissive attitude about IT security was blamed in part for last summer’s loss of personal information for 22 million federal government workers and their families through a breach at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. 

It also a concern as a result of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton decision to use a personal email account and private server located at her New York home to conduct official government business. Hundreds of emails found on the Clinton server contained sensitive or classified information that may have been compromised by hackers working for foreign intelligence services.

“This indictment is interesting because the NASA Administrator and the administration fought us all the way,” recalled former Representative Frank Wolf in an interview with the DCNF. Wolf was the Virginia Republican who first made the Bo Jiang case public.

Wolf was chairman of a House subcommittee that had appropriations oversight of NASA. He retired in 2014 after 30 years in office.

“I want to commend the FBI,” he told TheDCNF. “And I want to commend the U.S. Attorneys office because I know when you get these cases there is a lot of push back.  We now see what the Chinese are doing with the cyberattacks.”

Wolf was one of 17 House congressmen whose office computers were hacked by the Chinese in 2008. All 17 were members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Despite the record of Chinese attacks, Wolf said it was impossible to get the Obama administration or NASA to seriously investigate the Bo Jiang case.

“When the high level whistleblower came to us, we really couldn’t get anybody within the administration or NASA to take this seriously nor could we get the IG,” Wolf said. “We were told, ‘Bo Jiang, no problem, don’t worry about it. This is alarmist. There’s nothing there.’ Only after we got law enforcement involved could we get action.”

A knowledgeable NASA official who requested anonymity said “the whole Bo Jiang incident was brought to management’s attention. They ignored it. They asked us to ignore it.”

The official said foreigners have more, not less, access to NASA operations at present.

Before the Bo Jiang case all foreign nationals, including green card holders, could be monitored and restricted. But now green card holders are treated like U.S. citizens with unrestricted access to all parts of the space research facility.

“If you have a green card, your allegiance may still be to China, but the green card gets you legal authority to work in the United States,” he said. “Therefore we don’t track them. They don’t have restrictions to transfer technology control plans. They’re given access the same exact way as a U.S. citizen because they have a green card.”

The official also charged that Woodell asked NASA authorities if he could return to the space center as an outside consultant after a guilty plea. The official did not know what Woodell was told.

Whistleblowers who went out on a limb to disclose the Bo Jiang case continue to face difficulties. One of them recently left the agency and accepted a reduction in pay, going from a GS-15 to a lower paying GS-13 ranking.

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