WASHINGTON – A new allegation has cropped up about technology leaks, this time involving high-level personnel at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
Officials allegedly were providing militarily sensitive technical data at conferences where foreign nationals, particularly from China, were in attendance.
Such data is subject to munitions export controls under the State Department-administered International Traffic in Arms Regulations.
But in the case of NASA, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the NASA Office of the Inspector General are investigating the alleged illegal transfer of ITAR-controlled technology by Simon P. “Pete” Worden, director of NASA’s Ames Research Center.
The agencies are investigating whether Worden allowed the unauthorized transfer of technology for a propulsion system originally developed for missile defense applications.
The technology was adapted for NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer, or LADEE, which is undergoing thermal vacuum testing at Ames. LADEE is a robotic mission that is supposed to study the moon’s thin atmosphere and conditions near its surface.
Scheduled to be launched this Summer, LADEE would undertake the evaluations from an equatorial orbit.
Two U.S. House of Representative members have called for an investigation of the alleged transfer, said to have occurred at various public conferences overseas “with Chinese and other foreign officials present.”
Furthermore, Reps. Frank Wolf, R-Va., and Lamar Smith, R-Texas, in a letter to the FBI further stated that the presentations may have occurred when “safeguards may not have been used or may have explicitly been ignored on multiple occasions” by personnel from the Ames Research Center.
While NASA is not commenting on the allegations, since they’re under investigation, the problem of a lack of prior clearance, especially of militarily critical technologies and technical data, reflects a breakdown in a once robust U.S. export control program.
At the height of the Cold War, sensitive information presented by scientists, especially from U.S. government labs, the military services or even defense contractors, had to be vetted by the Defense Intelligence Agency.
With the end of the Cold War, however, the vetting process was set aside, meaning that scientists from any U.S. government lab could make a presentation without prior vetting from a central intelligence authority.
Nevertheless, the scientists are supposed to run the information through their agencies’ security offices. But that, apparently, is no longer happening, resulting in ready access by foreign nationals. The problem is especially acute with scientists who look at scientific fora as a means of a free exchange of information, without regard for the sensitive nature of the information.
There was a similar case in 1998 when Hughes Electronics and Loral Space & Communications Ltd. came under investigation by the Justice Department and two congressional committees for allegedly transferring sensitive U.S. space technology to the Chinese.
The illegal transfer occurred during the administration of President Bill Clinton. One of Clinton’s major financial donors was the head of Loral, Bernard Schwartz. Clinton was known for seeking extensive waivers to allow technology transfers to China.
In the case of Hughes-Loral, the company never bothered to vet the technical data prior to exporting it to the Chinese, despite the advice of its internal compliance office.
The technology then found its way into China’s development of its intercontinental ballistic missiles following two failed Chinese rocket launches of Hughes and Loral satellites.
In the case of Worden, he has been described as someone known to encourage a “free-wheeling culture of innovation at Ames, encouraging young engineers and scientists regardless of their nationality to develop new ideas,” according to one source.
WND reported last month that the Obama administration quietly was allowing China to acquire major ownership interests in oil and natural gas resources across the U.S.
Last year, Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin reported that the giant Chinese telecommunications company Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. allegedly was involved in an attempt in 2011 to sell embargoed U.S. telecommunications technology to Iran.
The Iranian partner of Huawei, Soda Gostar Persian Vista, allegedly tried to sell embargoed American antenna equipment to the Iranian firm, MTN Irancell, but the transaction never was completed.
Huawei recently had come under congressional scrutiny, along with another Chinese company, ZTE, for alleged espionage of U.S. telecommunications systems.