United States Of Common Sense

A Bag of Hammers

The Space Shuttle Discovery
The Space Shuttle Discovery
The Space Shuttle Discovery seen from the International Space Station. | Photo: NASA | The Space Shuttle Discovery, Nasa, Jpl, International Space Station, Exploration, Mars, Airline, Jet,

NASA and the Failure to Safeguard Critical Technology

I used to work with a guy who owned two black Labs. They were wonderful dogs but not exceptionally bright. Their owner affectionately referred to them as "dumber than a bag of hammers".

That also is now apparently true of NASA.

On March 18, 2013 the FBI arrested a Chinese researcher named Bo Jiang as he was attempting to leave the country on an aircraft bound for Beijing. Jiang was carrying at least two computers, multiple hard drives and other data storage devices. He is suspected of stealing secrets from NASA at the behest of the Chinese government.

Bo Jiang is a Chinese citizen. He was employed by the National Institute of Aerospace in Hampton Roads, Virginia. In that capacity he worked on contracts for NASA. As a contractor for NASA he had unsupervised access to NASA facilities including the "high security" NASA facility at Langley near Hampton Roads.

Let's recap.

The Chinese are not our friends. They sponsor and support North Korea, arguably the most psychotic regime on the planet. The Chinese sell high tech weaponry to the Iranians, who are busy trying to perfect a nuclear weapon and threatening regularly to attack US naval forces in the Persian Gulf. The Chinese are engaged in a tense confrontation with the Japanese, our allies, over rights to large areas of the East China Sea. The Chinese are involved in a similar confrontation with several other nations in the South China Sea and have deployed naval vessels hundreds of miles from their shores to effectively seize areas that are believed to hold oil and natural gas deposits. The Chinese are laying siege to the communications and computer systems of our largest corporations and most sensitive government agencies as part of a massive, long standing effort to steal secrets that will allow them to prevail over us in the event of a military conflict.

This is the context in which NASA decided that it made sense to employ a Chinese citizen on sensitive projects and to grant him access to its facilities.

It gets worse.

Jiang was one of 192 Chinese citizens employed in some capacity by NASA throughout the nation. Indications are that while Jiang was apprehended before he left the country this time, he had already made previous trips back to China carrying sensitive data taken from NASA. There are concerns that at least some of this information pertained to high tech imaging technology with major defense significance. Incredibly, some of this data was apparently carried by Jiang to China with the knowledge of his superiors at NASA.

Miss NASA 1971
Miss NASA 1971

In the late sixties and early seventies, the MISS NASA contest was very popular. It's a pity there is not as much enthusiasm behind the program now. Miss NASA is pictured here in Apollo 8. In 1970, a (female) NASA Goddard Space Flight employee wrote a memo to all “Goddard gals” about the propriety of women wearing pants to work. | Photo: NASA | Link | Nasa, Beauty Pageant, 1971, Space, Rocket, Astronaut ,

Congressman Frank Wolf, a Republican from Virginia has blasted NASA for the security breach and pointed out that there are in existence laws, which should have prohibited NASA from employing Jiang in the way it did. Speaking to Discovery News, Wolf said, "The Chinese have the most comprehensive spying program in Washington that has ever been. They make the KGB look like they were the junior varsity or freshman team."

Jiang has now been indicted for making false statements and is being held in custody. The FBI is continuing its investigation. NASA administrator Charles Bolden has shut down a NASA database holding technical reports and ordered the obligatory internal review.

One wonders what such an internal review will turn up that was not immediately apparent to anyone with a modicum of common sense before. The Chinese have long since come to dominate industries like shipbuilding and steel production that were once the backbone of American industry. Nonetheless we remain confident of military superiority over them, not because of numbers of men or tanks, but because of our technological superiority.

We know this. The Chinese know this. They are, therefore, understandably focused on stealing from our most sensitive government agencies and our biggest defense contractors the information they need to close the gap and field forces that are technologically equal to ours.

This effort is massive, longstanding and ongoing. It extends into the realm of cyber warfare and also encompasses a vast number of human sources across the United States. Anyone who has the remotest understanding of Chinese government defense policy knows and understands this.

This Chinese effort is not so much a matter of select numbers of sensitive assets stealing specific pieces of intelligence as it is the functional equivalent of a giant vacuum cleaner sucking up data all across the United States and pumping it back to Beijing. There are not handfuls of individuals involved. There are hundreds, if not thousands, and the bulk of them are Chinese citizens.

This is not an indictment of the character of the Chinese people. It is a recognition of reality. The Chinese researcher who comes to the United States to work in a national lab may be brilliant. He may also be a great person and may wish fervently for democratic change in his home country. It does not matter.

NASA Helios
NASA Helios

The NASA Helios prototype flying wing is shown here over the Pacific Ocean during it's first test flight on solar power from the US Navy's Pacific Missile Range facility in Hawaii. | Photo: Nick Galante | Nasa, Helios, Space, Solar, Energy, Defense,

This notional researcher is a citizen of a communist state, which denies basic human rights to its citizens and continues to hold millions in labor camps. He cannot oppose the dictates of that regime without paying a horrible price. Perhaps more importantly, he cannot oppose the dictates of that regime without having his family back in China pay that price. His cooperation with Chinese intelligence services is not requested. It is compelled.

It is, therefore, incomprehensible that Chinese citizens would be employed in any capacity in sensitive positions inside the United States. The Chinese understand this. They employ no American citizens in equivalent positions inside China. They are, after all, not fools. They, unlike some of us apparently, are not "dumber than a bag of hammers".

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Updated Jan 2, 2019 12:28 PM EST | More details


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