Former NASA contractor employee Bo Jiang, arrested last March by federal agents as he was about to board a flight to Beijing, took vast amounts of sensitive research by a noted colleague to China in 2012, The Washington Examiner has learned.
Dr. Zia-ur Rahman was a career scientist at the NASA Langley Research Center in Virginia assigned to the agency's sensors and electromagnetics branch, which works with the Department of Defense on military aviation technologies.
Rahman was an internationally recognized expert in the field of defense optics, including the areas of remote sensing, electro-optical field imaging systems and image processing. He was a G-14 federal employee.
Such technologies are vital for U.S. defense systems, including those used by satellites and U.S. attack aircraft to identify and track targets.
The late scientist — who was from Pakistan — was an active member of the International Society for Optics and Photonics. Rahman was "chair or co-chair of the Visual Information Processing Conference held annually at the SPIE Defense, Security, and Sensing meeting. He also presented papers at other SPIE meetings, including SPIE/IS&T Electronic Imaging, and SPIE Photonics West, and authored several SPIE journal papers," according to SPIE.
His work led to three U.S. and international patents that led the agency to award Rahman the NASA Space Act Award, one of its highest awards.
The space agency declined to discuss Rahman's research.
Jiang was arrested March 16 at Washington Dulles International Airport and charged with making false statements to federal agents under the U.S. Arms Export Control Act.
Prior to his arrest, NASA Langley had suspended Jiang as a contract employee following internal allegations that he had taken "voluminous" NASA files to China in 2012.
His arrest is at the heart of a growing controversy about NASA's hiring of a large number of foreign nationals in national security work.
In addition to the space agency's civilian space programs, NASA works with defense agencies on advanced space-based defense technologies designed to protect the country from ballistic missile attacks.
Rahman died in December 2010 in a single-car crash on an icy interstate in Rockbridge County, Va.
When Jiang was arrested at Dulles with a one-way ticket to Beijing, federal agents interrogated him about his relationship with the late scientist, according to Jiang's court-appointed attorney in papers filed in federal court.
At the airport, Jiang possessed a second undeclared laptop, two additional hard drives and a "large quantity of data," according to defense attorney Fernando Groene.
Jiang "knowingly and willfully" made false statement to the agents about these items when confronted by the agents, according to court papers.
Jiang currently is in the custody of U.S. marshals and is being held a detention center in Virginia until his next hearing on May 29.
A NASA Langley executive with first-hand knowledge of the Jiang case and who requested anonymity told The Examiner that Jiang took "numerous terabytes" of Rahman's imaging data on the 2012 trip to China. A terabyte is a trillion bytes of information.
Congressional sources have also confirmed for The Examiner that Jiang carried the Rahman data to China in 2012.
Jiang allegedly received the data from two fellow NASA employees, Glenn A. Woodell and Daniel J. Jobson, who collaborated with Rahman and co-authored scientific papers with him.
"They basically gave [Jiang] all of his data after [Rahman] died," the NASA executive said. "It was given to him on a silver platter."
Jobson declined to comment and a NASA spokesman said Woodell was unavailable. The spokesman also refused to say if Jobson and Woodell gave the Rahman data to Jiang.
Jiang was given Rahman's source codes, technical research, briefing papers, a contact list of fellow scientists, and briefing notes from international conferences, the NASA executive said.
"I know the thing that is causing investigators a lot of problems is a lot of it is source code," he told The Examiner.
Rahman and Jiang apparently had a close relationship. According to a filing by Groene, Jiang studied under Rahman at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va.
Rahman sponsored Jiang at the National Institute of Aeronautics, according to Jiang's lawyer, and Jiang continued Rahman's research at NASA after his professor's death.
The NASA executive said there is a lax attitude toward security and the hiring of many foreign nationals at the space agency.
"You see we're spending millions of dollars on the research and our adversaries are getting it for free, because we're giving it to them," he said.
Groene asked the court to suppress many of the statements made by his client to federal agents, claiming he had not been advised of his right to remain silent under Miranda rules.
The defense lawyer also asked the court to exclude all evidence found at Jiang's home, which was searched on March 18, arguing it was unconstitutional.
Richard Pollock is a member of The Washington Examiner Watchdog investigative reporting team. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.