NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (AP) — A former contractor at NASA's Langley Research Center arrested while trying to fly to China will plead not guilty to lying to federal authorities about what electronics he was taking with him, his attorney said Thursday.
Bo Jiang was arrested at Dulles International Airport on Saturday while trying to fly to Beijing on a one-way ticket, according to court records. An affidavit signed by an FBI agent says Jiang was under investigation for possible violations of the Arms Control Act when he was approached by federal agents and asked what electronics he was taking with him to China.
The affidavit says he told Homeland Security agents that he had a cellphone, a memory stick, an external hard drive and a new computer. However, the affidavit says when agents conducted a search they found an additional laptop, an old hard drive and a SIM card for a cell phone.
The affidavit says Jiang previously traveled to China with a laptop belonging NASA that is believed to contain sensitive information.
Jiang's attorney Fernando Groene said Jiang was unfairly targeted and is looking forward to being vindicated. He said he plans to ask for a jury trial and wants Jiang's side of the story coming out.
Groene said Jiang was leaving the country because his work visa was about to expire and he had been unable to find other employment since losing his job in January.
The investigation into Jiang has led NASA to review access that NASA facilities grant to foreign citizens from China and other countries. NASA administrator Charles Bolden told a congressional subcommittee Wednesday that he's also ordered a moratorium on granting any new access to NASA facilities to people from countries including China, Burma, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan.
Bolden said he also closed down the NASA technical reports database while officials review whether there is a risk of export-controlled documents being made available on that publicly available website.
Bolden made the comments in response to U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va. Wolf has suggested that NASA is skirting federal rules against hiring workers from China by hiring contractors that employ Chinese citizens, and national security is at risk as a result.
"I am particularly concerned that this information may pertain to the source code for high-tech imaging technology that Jiang has been working on with NASA. This information could have significant military applications for the Chinese Peoples Liberation Army," Wolf said at a Washington news conference on Monday.
Jiang worked at Langley in Hampton but was employed by the National Institute of Aerospace. The institute is a non-profit research and graduate education institute created by a consortium of universities.
Jiang graduated with a doctoral degree in electrical and computer engineering from one of the partner universities, Old Dominion University, in 2010. He worked for the institute for about two years before losing his job in January, according to the institute.
In a statement on its website, the institute says it works 'hand-in-hand with NASA and other partners to ensure compliance with all U.S. Export Control, immigration laws and regulations.'
A detention hearing for Jiang on Thursday was postponed until March 28. Groene said he intends to ask for Jiang to be released from the custody of the U.S. Marshals.
Brock Vergakis can be reached at www.twitter.com/BrockVergakis