March 19, 2013
HAMPTON — A former NASA Langley Research Center contractor was arrested Saturday and charged with lying to federal investigators after he was blocked from leaving the country on a “one-way ticket” back to his native China.
Bo Jiang — a Chinese national who was under active investigation for possible violations of federal arms control laws — is accused of lying to federal agents about the computers and storage devices he was carrying when agents boarded the plane he was on at Dulles International Airport, according to an FBI affidavit.
The investigation into Jiang, who worked at the National Institute of Aerospace, a Hampton-based nonprofit that conducts most of its work for NASA Langley, has spurred Langley to review its security practices.
U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf, R-McLean, chairman of the Commerce, Justice and Science subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, said it’s clear that NASA Langley and the National Institute of Aerospace did not follow procedures designed to prevent such security breaches.
NASA Langley Research Center is now “moving quickly … to review all security protocols and access to the center by foreign nationals,” said Wolf, who got the original whistle blower tip that helped spearhead the investigation.
“It is my understanding that the center is in the middle of a comprehensive security review and is implementing new training,” he said.
Though it’s not clear whether federal investigators had so far found anything of interest on the computer devices in Jiang’s possession, Wolf said Monday that he is concerned that the information might have had “significant military applications” for the Chinese military.
“We won’t know the nature of the information on the hard drives until the FBI fully reviews it,” Wolf said at a press conference in Washington on Monday. But “we know that Mr. Jiang has in the past taken sensitive information back to China that he should not have been allowed to remove from Langley.”
It was just last week that the FBI opened an investigation into whether Jiang, 32, of West Bay Avenue in Norfolk, might have previously violated the federal Arms Export Control Act, according to an FBI affidavit. That act covers the transfer of sensitive technologies to foreign countries.
The FBI affidavit stated that Jiang had previously traveled to China with a NASA laptop containing “sensitive information.”
But on Friday, agents learned that Jiang “was leaving the United States to abruptly return to China on a one-way ticket,” according to an FBI affidavit.
On Saturday morning, he flew out of Norfolk International Airport. He changed planes at Dulles International, bound for Beijing.
While the plane was still on the ground at the Northern Virginia airport, however, federal agents came aboard and asked to have a word with him. Jiang agreed to a “consensual” search, in which they pressed him for what computers and storage disks he had with him.
That’s when he lied to federal agents about what he had in his possession, the FBI affidavit stated.
“Jiang told the Homeland Security Agent that he had a cellphone, a memory stick, an external hard drive and a new computer,” FBI Special Agent Rhonda A. Squizzero wrote in the affidavit. “However, during the search, other media items were located that Jiang did not reveal. Such items found include an additional laptop, an old hard drive and a SIM card.”
He was arrested, and faces a federal charge of lying to investigators — specifically, of “knowingly and willfully making and causing to be made false, fictitious and fraudulent material statements and representations, and to falsify, by trick, scheme, and device, a material fact.”
Jiang appeared at an arraignment Monday afternoon before Magistrate Judge Lawrence Leonard in U.S. District Court in Norfolk.
Leonard ordered him held until Thursday, when there would be a detention hearing and preliminary hearing on the lying charge in Newport News federal court. Speaking to Jiang through a translator who was calling into the hearing by phone, Leonard also appointed him a court-appointed lawyer, which he apparently qualified for based on his assets and income.
It’s not clear from the court records when Jiang first came to the United States or when he first began working for the National Institute of Aerospace.
But it’s highly “troubling,” Wolf said, that Jiang “was allowed by NASA and (National Institute of Aerospace) supervisors to take his work and volumes of other NASA research back to China for a period of time, as documented in an investigative report I received.”
“I am particularly concerned that this information may pertain to the source code for high-tech imaging technology that Jiang has been working on with NASA,” Wolf said.
NASA Langley and other NASA research centers, Wolf added, work on technology for satellites, unmanned aerial vehicles and other technologies that President Obama has said were of great interest to foreign spies, from China and elsewhere.