NASA Continues To Keep Report on Security Breaches at Field Centers Under Wraps

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WASHINGTON — Facing persistent questioning from some U.S. lawmakers about security at its field centers, NASA reiterated June 20 that national security and privacy concerns prohibit the full public release of an independent report that criticized the agency’s failure to prevent unauthorized access by foreign nationals to sensitive NASA data and facilities.

The report, “An Independent Review of Foreign National Access Management,” is the result of an investigation NASA requested in March 2013 after Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) went public with allegations of security breaches involving foreign nationals at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, and Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California. 

An executive summary of the report, written by the congressionally chartered National Academy of Public Administration, was published in February. It found no evidence of deliberate wrongdoing at NASA. 

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden nonetheless said the agency would heed the report’s recommendation to create an agency-wide Foreign Nationals Access Management office to handle enforcement of foreign access and export control policies.

At a June 20 joint hearing of the House Science space and oversight subcommittees, Richard Keegan, NASA’s associate deputy administrator, stood by the agency’s decision to release only an executive summary — something Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.) said “perplexed” him.

“It appears as though NASA is more concerned about protecting this report rather than its own sensitive information,” said Broun, chairman of the House Science subcommittee on investigations and oversight. He then asked Keegan whether NASA could provide a list of specific passages of the report that might be suitable for public release. 

“For example, I find it hard to believe that the background section [of the report] has anything of concern within it,” Broun said.

Douglas Webster, a fellow at the National Academy of Public Administration, defended the agency’s approach, saying that although some information from the report might not be sensitive by itself, “when you piece it together with other related pieces of information, it could provide insight to an adversary that might be useful that they otherwise might not gain.”

A SpaceNews Freedom of Information Act request filed with NASA May 6 also failed to produce the full report. In a June 6 response to that request, NASA said the report would be withheld in full because releasing it would violate the U.S. Arms Export Control Act.

In the same response, NASA also said a full release would constitute an invasion of the privacy of unspecified individuals by exposing “personal and medical files.” It also would expose “techniques and procedures for law enforcement investigations,” NASA said.

 

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