WASHINGTON — A Chinese national with alleged ties to a group the U.S. government has labeled an “entity of concern” may have had unauthorized access to technical data at NASA’s Langley Research Center, Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) said March 6 at a Capitol Hill press conference.
Wolf, a China critic who last month pressed the U.S. Justice Department to explain why no one had been charged following an investigation of alleged export-control violations at a different NASA field center, would not identify the group or the federal agencies that had labeled it a concern.
Nor would he identify the Chinese national. But Wolf said the person worked for a NASA contractor at Langley where he “was allegedly provided access and information he should otherwise have been restricted from receiving.”
Wolf said his information came from a whistleblower report delivered to his office about two weeks before the press conference.
“It is my understanding that this Chinese national is affiliated with an institution in China that has been designated as an ‘entity of concern’ by other U.S. government agencies,” he said.
Wolf also declined to say what restricted technology this individual might have accessed at Langley, a largely aeronautics-focused field center in Hampton, Va.
But Wolf said whistleblowers allege the Chinese national was “working directly on technology that may have national security implications” and “was also allegedly allowed, by both NASA and its contractor, to take his work, and volumes of other NASA research, back to China for a period of time.”
NASA spokesman David Weaver said March 6 the individual “no longer works at Langley.”
“We are familiar with the situation involving a Langley contractor, have completed our review and referred the matter to the appropriate law enforcement officials,” Weaver wrote in a statement. He would not identify the contractor or the law enforcement branch to which NASA referred its findings.
Wolf, meanwhile, said his concerns run deeper than one contractor at one NASA center.
Again citing information from the Langley whistleblowers, Wolf said NASA officials directed an outside contractor to hire the Chinese national. The move, Wolf said, was “an apparent attempt to circumvent appropriations restrictions the Congress has in place to prevent the hiring of certain foreign nationals of concern.
“I’ve also received information that at least several dozen 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. I’m worried that this workaround of congressional restrictions may be happening at other NASA centers, too.”
Wolf called on NASA Administrator Charlesto convene an independent review of its security procedures, recommending the federally funded nonprofit National Academy of Public Administration for the job. He also charged the agency to review NASA credentials granted to foreign nationals “to identify and remove any individuals with ties to organizations or foreign governments designated as counterintelligence threats, including designated ‘entities of concerns,’ or any Chinese national with a professional tie to an institution connected to the Chinese government.”
NASA insists it has rigid safeguards in place at its 10 field centers to protect restricted technology from unauthorized access.
“Foreign nationals from specifically designated countries, including China, undergo additional background screening and have strict conditions placed on their visits and activities at NASA,” NASA spokesman Allard Beutel said in a March 6 email. Such people “can only have access to and work with information that has been approved for release to the general public,” Beutel said. “They are additionally subject to full-time escort requirements.”
Wolf also raised concerns the week of March 4 about the possibility that a Chinese delegation had been invited to attend a March 12-14 meeting at Langley of the Committee on Earth Observation Satellites, an international body that includes the Chinese Academy of Space Technology and the Chinese Meteorological Administration among its members.
Hosting Chinese officials at the Langley meeting, Wolf told Bolden in a March 4 letter, “would be in clear violation of the law.” The law Wolf referred to is a provision of a 2011 appropriations bill that Wolf himself wrote.
Weaver said there would be no Chinese nationals at the meeting, though he would not say whether NASA had invited any to attend in the first place.
“NASA has fully complied with the law regarding this meeting and will continue to do so,” Weaver said.
Last month, Wolf and House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) sent letters to FBI Director Robert Mueller and the Justice Department’s inspector general, Michael Horowitz, requesting an investigation into whether “political pressure” prevented the department from prosecuting alleged export-control violations at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif.
Following media coverage of the congressmen’s claims, Ames Director Pete Worden, a retired Air Force brigadier general, said in a statement that there had been no attempt to obstruct arms control investigations at Ames. He also offered to testify under oath about the issue.