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NASA chief says 192 Chinese nationals work in, around space agency

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NASA Administrator Charles Bolden told a congressional panel this afternoon that 192 Chinese nationals work in or around his agency, along with 89 foreign nationals from other countries.

Bolden is testifying before a subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee which has oversight authority for the space agency's budget. Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., is chairman of the subcommittee.

In response to Bolden's estimate, Wolf said he is aware of five whistleblowers at NASA's Ames Research Center near San Francisco who are "very concerned" about espionage in their facility, and hesitant about speaking up because they are "intimidated and fearful."

Bolden replied that "I would be very bothered" to know that even five are upset.

The NASA head's testimony follows the arrest this past weekend of Bo Jiang, a Chinese national employed by a NASA contractor in a position that afforded him virtually unlimited access to potentially sensitive research and documents concerning U.S. space and satellite technologies.

Wolf also said during the hearing that "the designated country of greatest concern to me is China. We know that China is an active and aggressive espionage threat. I suspect that this focus on stealing space- and flight-based technology explains at least some of the major advances that the Chinese space program has made in the past few years.

Jiang was arrested at Dulles Airport trying to board a one-way flight home to China and carrying multiple electronic devices that he attempted to conceal. He was arraigned in federal court Monday. An FBI arrest warrant said the law enforcement agency is "investigating conspiracies and substantive violations of the Arms Export Control Act."

Yesterday, FBI Director Robert Mueller told Wolf's panel that multiple counter-espionage investigations are underway at several NASA facilities. Mueller said the threat from Chinese espionage efforts against NASA is significant.

"If anything, I would say that the threat is - is more substantial than perhaps it was 10, 15 years ago," he said.

In his prepared testimony, Bolden described a number of steps he has taken in recent weeks to bolster NASA's ability to prevent penetration of its most sensitive research:

"First, I have ordered a complete review of the access which foreign nationals from designated countries are granted at NASA facilities, as well as our security procedures with regard to these individuals more broadly.  This is in addition to reviews being conducted by the NASA IG and others.

"Second, I have closed down the NASA technical reports database while we review whether there is a risk of export-controlled documents being made available on this website.

"Third, I have ordered a moratorium on granting any new access to NASA facilities to individuals from specific designated countries, including China, Burma, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Uzbekistan.

"Fourth, while this review is ongoing, I have also ordered that any remote computer access to NASA resources be terminated for those from the same specific designated countries.

"Fifth, NASA has also been working very closely with law enforcement agencies on security and counter-intelligence issues and will continue to do so.

"Sixth, the review I have directed is also being accompanied by a renewed emphasis to our supervisors and the workforce on the importance of our security protocols, including assessments of new trainings that may be needed.

"And finally, I want this Committee to know that I have placed a priority on protecting security, export control, and safety compliance funding from any budgetary impacts from sequestration, and my team will continue working under that guidance."

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