March 11, 2013
U.S. contractors who employ foreign workers for NASA jobs must comply with laws designed to protect sensitive technology, and the agency spends more than $200 million a year to ensure that they do, according to David Weaver, the agency’s associate administrator for communications.
That includes recently blocking a foreign contractor from entering Langley Research Center, and turning evidence about his activities over to law enforcement.
“NASA takes any allegation of a security violation very seriously and follows long-established procedures to investigate these allegations quickly and thoroughly,” stated Weaver, the agency’s politically appointed chief spokesman, in response to charges raised March 7 by Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.). “These investigations are handled by our security and counterintelligence professionals in cooperation with the NASA inspector general and other law enforcement officials, as appropriate.”
Weaver said the agency had reviewed Wolf’s charges that a Langley Research Center contractor hired a Chinese national for space agency tasks in a “workaround” designed to thwart a congressional ban on space cooperation with China.
“Although we normally don’t comment on investigations, because information now has been made public, we can confirm we are familiar with the situation involving a Langley contractor, have completed our review and referred the matter to the appropriate law enforcement officials,” Weaver stated. “The contractor in question no longer works at Langley.”
NASA spends “more than $200 million each year on homeland security and counterintelligence activities,” and requires annual security training for its employees, he said. If foreign nationals working for agency contractors need access to a NASA facility, he said, the agency “applies its own security and export control review to determine whether access to the NASA facility is safe and appropriate.”
Wolf, a harsh critic of the Chinese government on human-rights grounds, has been spurring the Justice Department to investigate whistleblower charges of lax security at Langley in Virginia and Ames Research Center in California. He is the author of legislation attached to NASA’s funding appropriation that prohibits use of funds for bilateral cooperation with China in space.
Elaborating how NASA interprets that ban, Weaver said foreign nationals from China and other “specifically designated countries” are tightly controlled when visiting NASA facilities, including special background screening, limits on what they can work with to “information that has been approved for release to the general public,” and a requirement that they have a full-time escort while on agency property.
“Chinese foreign nationals visiting NASA facilities do not violate the appropriations limits on bilateral activities with China because these individuals are not involved in bilateral activities for or on behalf of the Chinese government or Chinese-owned companies,” he stated. “In most cases, they are students at U.S. universities or employees of NASA contractors.”