Chinese NASA contract worker accused of lying to feds
NORFOLK, Va. — A Chinese scientist who worked for a NASA contractor in Hampton has been arrested after boarding a China-bound plane and charged with lying to federal agents about computer hardware he was carrying.
The scientist, Bo Jiang, has been targeted by a Northern Virginia congressman who says Jiang was provided inappropriate access to technology at NASA’s Langley Research Center that could have national security implications.
U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., alleged at a press conference earlier this month that Jiang was employed by a Langley contractor at the direction of NASA officials in an apparent attempt to circumvent restrictions Congress has put in place on the hiring of certain foreign nationals by the federal space agency. “It is my understanding that NASA spent several hundred thousand dollars to pay for this individual’s contract,” Wolf said.
He said NASA-Langley conducts research on unmanned aerial vehicles and other technologies with both civilian and military applications that might be of interest to China.
“I have also received information that at least several dozen other Chinese nationals – none of whom have U.S. citizenship and many who do not even have green cards – are currently working at Langley under a similar scheme,” Wolf said. “I worry that this ‘workaround’ of congressional restrictions may be happening at other NASA centers too.”
Jiang, who received a Ph.D. in electrical and computer engineering from Old Dominion University in 2010, had made a previous trip to China carrying a laptop computer belonging to NASA which was believed to contain “sensitive information,” according to an FBI affidavit filed in U.S. District Court in Norfolk.
Agents learned Friday that Jiang was leaving abruptly to return to China on a one-way ticket on Saturday, according to the affidavit. He flew from Norfolk to Dulles International Airport outside Washington, where he boarded a plane bound for Beijing. Federal agents intercepted him there and searched his belongings.
During what they called a “consensual encounter,” the agents asked Jiang what electronic media he had with him. He told an agent from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that he had a cell phone, a memory stick, an external hard drive and a new computer.
But during the search, according to the affidavit, agents found other items Jiang had not revealed, including an additional laptop, an old hard drive and a portable memory chip called a SIM card.
He was arrested on the lying charge and made his initial court appearance Monday.
Wolf, who chairs a House subcommittee that oversees NASA, said he was alerted about Jiang by whistleblowers. He said the case suggests a management culture at NASA “that turns a blind eye, or in some cases may outright encourage, violations of security regulations.”
A NASA spokesman did not immediately return a call seeking comment.