Career civil servants” have been coming out of the woodwork with reports of lax security practices at NASA since Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) raised the issue publicly, and the powerful committee chairman may call some of the whistleblowers to testify publicly about their charges.

Wolf cited Obama administration documents in warning that a “sustained attack” on U.S. trade and national security secrets by China and “other nations of concern” warrants more rigorous efforts to protect secrets than NASA management has shown. “It is a problem, and I’m not going to stand by,” Wolf said during a March 13 hearing of the House Appropriations subcommittee on commerce, science, justice and related agencies, which he chairs. “I’m going to pursue this thing.”

Wolf’s only witness at the Wednesday hearing — NASA Inspector General Paul Martin — testified that his office shares many of Wolf’s concerns about protecting the agency’s secrets, and argued that policies and laws are in place to do so. The problem, he said, is in “how well they’re executed on a day-to-day basis.”

Langley case

Martin said his headquarters staff learned from Wolf’s office only recently of a case at Langley Research Center in which a Chinese contractor employee allegedly was allowed to return to China with sensitive data. Wolf has charged that the Chinese national, who he identified Wednesday as Bo Jiang, was affiliated with an organization in China identified as an “entity of concern” by U.S. intelligence.

According to his profile on the website of SPIE, an international optics and photonics organization, Bo received a Ph.D in electrical and computer engineering from Old Dominion University in Virginia after studying at technical universities in Chendu, Sichuan, China. Until recently he was a research scientist specializing in edge-detection and image enhancement at the National Institute of Aerospace in Hampton, Va., where he worked in the Visual Information Processing Lab at NASA Langley, according to the profile.

NASA’s top spokesman, David Weaver, said last week the Chinese official Wolf identified no longer works at Langley, and that the case has been turned over to “the appropriate law enforcement officials.”

Martin said there are about 200 Chinese nationals working in NASA facilities across the agency, basing the figure on a response the agency sent Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), who raised the issue. In his testimony he said NASA has a number of organizations in addition to his own with authority to oversee security issues, including security offices and a counterintelligence organization.

No comment

In cases where he is investigating security-related issues, Martin generally declined to comment because the inquiries are not complete. He said since he raised the issue of encrypting NASA laptops a year ago, more than 99% of them have been encrypted. A laptop stolen from an employee’s car contained unencrypted personal information on some 40,000 individuals, and the agency has spent more than $800,000 on credit monitoring to determine if the case amounted to identify theft. To date that has not proven to be the case, he said.

Wolf said his office has been contacted by numerous NASA whistleblowers since he publicized charges of lax security at Ames Research Center, and vowed to “to bring them in and let them lay this on the record” if Martin’s office and other federal law enforcement agencies do not allay his concerns.

“If we’re going to fund these programs, which we believe in deeply, we’re not going to stand by and allow the Chinese and others to steal this information,” Wolf said.