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Third ex-NASA Ames worker jailed for child porn

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A third former worker at the NASA Ames Research Center in California was sentenced Wednesday to federal prison for using a government computer to download child pornography.

Ernst John Rohde, 64, pleaded guilty in February to two counts of receiving materials relating to the sexual exploitation of minors while working at the Mountain View NASA base as a contract worker. Prosecutors said Rohde downloaded a "voluminous number" of child porn images and videos from his NASA-issued computer and from his home in Stockton, California.

Rohde estimated he accumulated "a million" images and media files of minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct over the course of 6-10 years. He explained to prosecutors that he used a program which continuously searches the internet and downloads such files, according to court documents.

On May 22 and 23 2006, IT specialists at Ames were alerted to an internet connection searching for "pre-teen" and "13-17," originating from the account "jacks4" on research center's wireless network. The connection also searched newsgroups with similarly incriminating names. During the second day, IT workers triangulated the wireless signal to a location near Ames lodging buildings. The workers contacted Ames lodging and discovered Rohde was staying there during that time.

On July 26 and 27 2006, tech workers were again alerted to suspicious connections. The same "jacks4" account accessed similarly shady newsgroups to download images and additionally accessed the account jackroh@hotmail.com. A review of the data captured during the internet connections in May and July included 50 images of child pornography.

At a hearing in San Jose on Wednesday, a judge ordered Rohde to surrender January 30 to begin serving a five-year sentence. Afterwards, he will be put on supervised release for the rest of his life.

Bizarrely, Rohde isn't the first NASA Ames worker to serve prison time for using government computers to download child porn in recent years. Nor his he the second. In July, former Ames center engineer Christopher Burt Wiltsee was sentenced to five years in federal prison for possessing child pornography. In March, another ex-engineer, Mark Charles Zelinsky, was sentenced to three years in prison for child porn. ®

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