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NASA Accused Of Technology Transfers?

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February 24, 2013 in Business


“One of NASA’s  renowned research centers has been under a four-year FBI  investigation for the possible transfer of secret weapon-system technology to  foreign countries, including China, two Republican  congressmen have disclosed.

Reps. Frank R. Wolf of Virginia and Lamar Smith of Texas are citing unnamed sources  to accuse employees at the NASA’s Ames Research  Center in California’s Silicon Valley of possibly violating International  Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR).

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in  Northern California wants to bring criminal charges against NASA  employees, but has been blocked by the Justice Department in Washington, the  congressmen say.

Melinda Haag, the U.S. attorney for the  Northern District of California, released a statement to The Washington Times  denying that her office had sought an indictment.

“I am aware of allegations our office sought authority from [the Justice  Department] in Washington, D.C., to bring charges in a particular matter and  that our request was denied,” Ms. Haag said. “Those allegations are untrue. No such request was made, and no such denial was  received.”

The congressmen made the charges in two letters dated Feb. 8 — one to FBI Director Robert  S. Mueller III, the other to the Justice Department’s inspector  general, Michael Horowitz.

“We have been informed of an investigation that the Federal  Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the NASA  office of inspector general and other law enforcement agencies have been working  on since 2009 relating to the alleged illegal transfer of ITAR-controlled  technology by individuals at the NASA Ames Research Center,” the letters say. “It is our understanding that this illegal technology transfer may have involved  classified Defense  Department weapons system technology to foreign countries, including China, potentially with the tacit or direct approval  of the center’s leadership.”

The letters say that “large numbers of foreign nationals are invited to work  at NASA  Ames the past six years” without security safeguards, and that Ames  officials have traveled to conferences in foreign countries and released  information about controlled technologies, with Chinese and other foreign  officials present.

A congressional source told The Washington Times that the State  Department reviewed the information that was transferred to foreigners and  confirmed it came under ITAR.

The source said the FBI wanted to bring charges,  but the case has stalled in Ms. Haag’s  office. Whistleblowers began contacting members of Congress to complain.

The information is thought to pertain to sensitive missile-defense  technology, and was conveyed orally and in electronic documents.

Mr. Wolf is chairman of the House  Appropriations subcommittee on commerce, justice and science, which funds the Justice Department, FBI  and NASA. Mr. Smith is chairman of the House Science,  Space and Technology Committee.

One of NASA’s 10  research centers, Ames is known for developing a  wide array of space-flight technologies. It is led by Simon “Pete” Worden, a  retired Air Force brigadier general and astronomer. He has set Ames  on a new scientific course, especially in the development of lower-cost small  satellites that require less rocket lift.

A spokesman at Ames referred questions to NASA  headquarters, which declined to comment.

The Wolf-Smith letters, the first public  notice of the Ames investigation, gives this chronology

After opening an investigating in 2009, the FBI  referred findings to the local U.S. attorney “more than a year ago.” The  prosecutor requested permission from Washington to bring indictments, but was  rebuffed recently, and an assistant U.S. attorney on the case was  reassigned.

“It is our understanding that after the reassignment, certain defendants and  certain charges were dropped from the case without explanation,” the  congressmen’s letters say.

The congressmen are asking the Justice Department’s inspector general  to investigate whether “political pressure may be a factor.” They also say one  suspect’s computer hard drive was corrupted by officials handling evidence.”



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