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NASA probing Chinese access to sensitive data

Mar. 21, 2013 - 01:53PM   |  
By LEDYARD KING   |   Comments

Visitors from China and several other suspect countries will be denied access to NASA facilities until the agency finishes investigating its cybersecurity measures involving foreign nationals, NASA’s administrator told congressional lawmakers Tuesday.

Administrator Charles Bolden Jr. announced the ban following the arrest Saturday of a Chinese researcher who once worked at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., and may have tried to provide sensitive information to Beijing.

The researcher, Bo Jiang, is under investigation for possible violations of the Arms Control Export Act, according to an FBI arrest warrant released earlier this week by Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va. Jiang previously took a NASA laptop containing sensitive information to China, the warrant says.

Access to NASA facilities will be denied to all visitors, including researchers and scientists, from China, Burma, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan.

Those “designated countries” are drawn from State Department and Commerce Department lists of nations the U.S. considers suspect because they have no diplomatic relations with this country, they are under sanction or embargo, they are considered state sponsors of terrorism, or they are they are a source of concerns about missile proliferation, NASA spokesman David Weaver said.

The restrictions do not apply to the 281 foreign nationals — including 192 from China — already working at NASA facilities, he said.

Bolden said the cybersecurity investigation is being handled by “security and counterintelligence professionals in cooperation with the NASA inspector general” and other appropriate law enforcement officials.

“NASA takes all allegations of security violations very seriously and follows long-established procedures to investigate them quickly and thoroughly,” Bolden told members of the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees NASA funding. “The agency is focused and committed to preventing and prosecuting all security violations.”

Bolden said NASA also will take other steps, including:

• Shutting down the agency’s database on technical reports while the review examines whether there’s a security risk.

• Denying remote computer access to those workers from the eight designated countries while the review is ongoing.

• Re-emphasizing security protocols to NASA employees and assessing whether new training is needed.

Wolf, who chairs the House Appropriations subcommittee that held the hearing, described China as “an active, aggressive, espionage threat’“ eager to steal classified American secrets by hacking into military and space agency computers.

Last month, he and House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, wrote to FBI Director Robert Mueller about their concerns regarding the possible leak of highly sensitive technological information to China from the NASA Ames Research Center in California.

Earlier this month, Wolf accused NASA of breaking an anti-espionage law he wrote by failing to notify Congress about two visits Chinese officials made to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida last year.

On Tuesday, Wolf seemed mostly satisfied with Bolden’s latest response to the security concerns. The congressman encouraged NASA to conduct an external investigation as well, a proposal Bolden said he would strongly consider.

“It is critically important for us to have confidence in NASA’s ability to protect sensitive technology and information from exploitation by entities that are looking to gain an advantage over the United States economically or militarily,” Wolf told Bolden at Tuesday’s hearing.


Ledyard King reports for Gannett Washington Bureau.

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