Bo Jiang, the Chinese national scientist employed by a NASA contractor for work at the space agency's Langley Research Center, was arrested Sunday by the FBI at Dulles International Airport as he tried to flee to China, according to Rep. Frank Wolf, R-VA.
Wolf said during a Capitol Hill news conference today that Jiang’s work at the NASA facility had given him access to information that “would be of the greatest interest to foreign spies, including China.”
Wolf is chairman of a House Appropriations Committee subcommittee that has budget oversight authority for NASA.
He made Jiang's name public for the first time last week during a subcommittee hearing where he also charged that Jiang had taken “voluminous sensitive” NASA documents back to China on a trip in 2012.
Jiang was employed by the National Institute of Aerospace, a Hampton, VA-based NASA contractor. The position afforded Jiang virtually unlimited, unescorted access to the NASA Langley facility, which is the location for classified research programs related to U.S. space defense technologies.
Ronda Squizzero, an FBI Special Agent said in documents Wolf made available today concerning Jiang’s arrest that he “was leaving the United States abruptly to return to China on a one-way ticket.”
The FBI is “investigating conspiracies and substantive violations of the Arms Export Control Act,” according to the FBI’s arrest warrant.
Jiang also is charged with making a false statement to federal law enforcement agents, including his attempt to conceal a “laptop, and old hard drive and a SIM card,” according to the FBI agent.
The FBI said it “believes this to be material to the federal investigation, in that it was important to learn what electronic media Jiang was taking out of the United States.”
Wolf said the Chinese national’s activities came to his attention from whistleblowers who worked at NASA Langley.
“I want to credit the whistleblowers at NASA who brought Mr. Jiang’s security violations to my attention, which resulted in this investigation,” Wolf said at today’s news conference.
After learning about Jiang, Wolf met with the FBI’s counterintelligence office and called FBI Director Robert Mueller about Jiang.
Wolf said he hopes to learn more about the information contained on Jiang’s hard drive. He said “we know that Mr. Jiang has in the past taken sensitive information back to China that he should not have been allowed to remove at Langley.”
Wolf also said he believes Jiang’s information “may pertain to the source code for high-tech imaging technology that Jiang has been working on with NASA. This information could have significant military applications for the Chinese Peoples Liberation Army.”
Sensitive technologies that are supposed to be strictly limited by U.S. export control laws are essential to U.S. space defense programs, but Wolf said they could also apply to “unmanned aerial vehicles and other aerospace/aeronautic technologies.”
During the same hearing last week in which Wolf revealed Jiang’s name, NASA Inspector-General Paul Martin said he believes there are nearly 200 Chinese nationals working in positions that afford them significant access to the agency and its programs.
Wolf has long expressed concern about the security of space defense secrets and has complained of lax security at NASA Langley and NASA Ames Research Center. NASA Ames is outside of San Francisco.
Wolf has said he believes NASA officials encouraged NIA to hire Jiang as a means to “circumvent” congressional restrictions on the hiring of foreign nationals by the space agency.
He released an internal NASA email that defended giving Jiang “an exception” to hire him. “I think it would be in the government’s best interests to be able to continue our work with him,” a NASA Langely official wrote.
Before Jiang’s detention Sunday, the last time the FBI arrested a Chinese national in the U.S. on suspicion of espionage activity was 2006 in a case concerning aviation issues.
Doongfan “Greg” Chung, a former Rockwell Internationa and Boeing engineer was convicted in 2009 of economic espionage and acting as an agent of the Peoples Republic of China.
An FBI search of Chung’s home in 2006 found 250,000 Boeing documents in his possession.
Jiang was to be arraigned today in a U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in Norfolk, VA. Assistant U.S. Attorney Lisa R. McKeel will handle the prosecution case for the government.