Officials at NASA's Langley Research Center permitted a contractor to hire a Chinese national affiliated with an organization designated by U.S. national security agencies as an "entity of concern," and then allowed the individual access to classified information, according to Rep. Frank Wolf.
The as-yet unidentified individual was permitted to take that information back home to China, according to Wolf, the Virginia Republican who is chairman of a House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees NASA.
Wolf said during a Capitol Hill news conference today that "at least several dozen other Chinese nationals," are employed at Langley, and he charged that they are employed in a manner to "circumvent" congressional bans on Chinese involvement at NASA facilities.
Wolf said he has talked with FBI Director Robert Mueller and the Neil H. MacBride, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia about the alleged national security violations at Langley, which is located in Hampton, Virginia.
He said he first heard the allegations from numerous whistleblowers who were career NASA employes and met with them about two weeks ago. He said he turned over information and documents to the FBI.
"It was shocking," the House chairman told reporters. "When I saw it, I couldn't believe it," he said.
Wolf criticized what he called the "management culture" within NASA that "turns a blind eye or in some cases may outright encourage, violations of security regulations."
He said "higher ups" within NASA and the U.S. Department of Justice were responsible for the security problems.
Wolf wants an outside investigation of NASA national security operations, a review of all current foreign nationals employed at NASA sites, a moratorium on hiring of foreign nationals from designated hostile countries, and federal prosecution of all confirmed NASA security breaches.
Wolf has previously criticized what he views as lax NASA security and the termination of a federal investigation of foreign nationals who allegedly have unauthorized access to sensitive space defense technology at NASA's Ames Research Center outside San Francisco.
Wolf also said NASA had posted on its web site "thousands of declassified but extremely sensitive documents." He said there were evidence the documents "were extensively accessed" by foreign governments including China and Iran.
Wolf's concern about Ames was communicated last month to the Justice Department, the U.S. Attorney's office in San Francisco and to the FBI. He was joined by Rep. Lamar Smith, Republican of Texas and chairman of the House Science and Technology Committee, and Sen. Charles Grassley, ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Today, Wolf said he has not received a response from Pete Worden, the retired Air Force general who is director of the Ames facility.
Wolf called NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden "a patriot. He is a good man.”
In an opening statement at the news conference, Wolf said:
It is my understanding that this Chinese national is affiliated with an institution in China that has been designated as an “entity of concern” by other U.S. government agencies. That is why I was deeply concerned to learn not only was he provided access and information he never should have received – working directly on technology that may have national security implications -- but he was also allegedly allowed by both NASA and his contractor to take his work and volumes of other NASA research back to China for a period of time, as documented in an investigative report I received."
Wolf added that President Obama singled out the importance of preventing "the theft of U.S. intellectual property specifically ... 'unmanned aerial vehicles, and other aerospace/aeronautic technologies' and 'civilian and dual-se technologies in sectors likely to experience fast growth' as information of the greatest interest to foreign spies, including China."
Those technologies are central to the work of NASA, Wolf said, which makes the agency a prime target for foreign espionage.
Richard Pollock is a member of The Washington Examiner's Watchdog investigative reporting team. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.