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Feds cuff ex-NASA boffin at airport amid state-secret leak scare

Bloke allegedly had one-way ticket to China with a bag full of disks

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An ex-NASA scientist was arrested as he tried to board a plane to Beijing amid claims of a security breach at the space agency.

Chinese national Bo Jiang, 31, who had been working for the National Institute of Aeronautics at NASA's Langley Research Centre, was cuffed by the FBI at Dulles airport in Washington. The Feds pounced after learning he apparently “was leaving the United States abruptly to return to China on a one-way ticket”.

Congressman Frank Wolf, chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee that funds the American space agency, uploaded a copy of the arrest warrant [PDF] for Jiang, who was born in Chengdu but was living in West Bay Ave, Norfolk, Virginia.

The legal paperwork stated:

During the consensual encounter [at the airport], federal agents asked Jiang what electronic media he had with him. Jiang told the Homeland Security Agent that he had a cell phone, a memory stick, an external hard drive and a new computer. However, during the search, other media items were located that Jiang did not reveal. Such items found include, an additional laptop, an old hard drive and a SIM card.

Jiang was held as officers set about “investigating conspiracies and substantive violations of the Arms Export Control Act”. In his role at the National Institute of Aeronautics (NIA), the Chinese contractor worked on the NASA Aviation Safety Programme and as such had access to the agency’s high-security Langley facilities.

Wolf claimed in a press conference, transcribed here [PDF], that Jiang may have allegedly pilfered “high-tech imaging technology” that could have military applications for the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. The Congressman also accused the boffin of taking, on a previous occasion, sensitive information back to his homeland “that he should not have been allowed to remove from Langley”.

Earlier this month, whistleblowers at NASA told Wolf that a Chinese national, supposedly with links to an organisation deemed “an entity of concern” by the US authorities, was working at NIA and had access to information that shouldn’t have been granted.

Wolf claimed the following, which appears to accuse NASA of bending the rules for Jiang:

The reason this is so important is that the president’s own strategy on mitigating the theft of US intellectual property specifically singled out “unmanned aerial vehicles, and other aerospace/aeronautic technologies” and “civilian and dual-use technologies in sectors likely to experience fast growth” as information of the greatest interest to foreign spies, including China.

These technologies are the very programs that NASA Langley and other NASA centres are working on.

I remain concerned that Mr. Jiang was employed by NIA allegedly at the direction of NASA officials in an apparent attempt to circumvent appropriations restrictions the Congress has in place to prevent the hiring of certain foreign nationals of concern.

If NASA is found to have flexed the rules, it would be a blow to the Obama administration's attempts to get tough on China.

According to CNN, Jiang appeared in court on Monday charged with making false statements to US authorities by failing to disclose all of the electronic devices he was carrying for his flight. He was held in custody following his arrest the previous day. ®

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