NASA administrator Charles Bolden has promised an investigation of the agency’s security procedures after a Chinese national who had worked at its Langley Research Center was arrested on a Beijing-bound plane before take-off last week. Jiang Bo has since been charged with lying to government agents about the contents of his luggage, but Republican congressman Frank Wolf has vocally accused him of spying. From Clara Moskowitz at Space.com:
In addition to initiating an internal security review, Bolden said he’s also contemplating asking an independent panel to undertake an investigation. In addition, he ordered a moratorium on granting any new access to NASA facilities to people from countries considered to be espionage threats, including China, Burma, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan. Existing NASA workers from those countries have also had their ability to access NASA facilities via remote computers temporarily suspended.
The issue is particularly sensitive because NASA has been forbidden by Congress from cooperating with China in space. Wolf himself was the author of a clause included in a U.S. spending bill passed in April 2011 that banned NASA from working with China or Chinese-owned companies on any bilateral projects.
“I don’t deal with China by direction of this Congress,” Bolden said during a separate House hearing with the Science, Space and Technology Committee held yesterday (March 19). He called the prohibition “the elephant in the room” and said, “We’re the only agency of the federal government that does not have bilateral relations with China.”
Friends of Jiang claim that he is simply “an unfortunate political scapegoat”. From Amy Li at the South China Morning Post:
Xing explained that Jiang was not ‘fleeing’ US as reported by some media. Jiang was leaving the US on a one-way ticket after he had learned his contract with Nasa would not be renewed. Jiang was headed back to China to spend time with his family, before reporting to a new job in Europe.
According to an FBI affidavit, when agents asked Jiang what electronic media he had with him during the investigation, Jiang told them he had a mobile phone, a memory stick, an external hard drive and a new computer. But agents later found an extra laptop, an old hard drive and a Sim card.
“From the way FBI agents asked these questions, Jiang could easily have been misled into thinking to mention only the objects in his carry-on, but not his checked-in luggage,” Xing wrote in Jiang’s defence.
“His spoken English isn’t so good, and I wonder if he had explained himself clearly, especially when he could have been really nervous,” Xing added.