May 3 (Bloomberg) -- A Chinese spy suspect pleaded guilty to violating computer-use rules of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration after prosecutors said they didn’t find any secret information on his electronic devices.
Bo Jiang, who was indicted March 20 for allegedly making false statements to the U.S. after being pulled from a plane as he was about to depart for China, admitted yesterday in federal court in Newport News, Virginia, to downloading sexually explicit images onto his NASA laptop in violation of agency rules, a misdemeanor.
“None of the computer media that Jiang attempted to bring to the PRC on March 16, 2013, contained classified information, export controlled information, or NASA proprietary information,” according to the statement of facts filed in Jiang’s case.
As part of the agreement, prosecutors dismissed the indictment and Jiang was ordered to leave the country within 48 hours.
“Dr. Jiang is relieved this ordeal is over,” his lawyer, Fernando Groene, said in an interview. “Although he was accused in arena of public opinion and in the halls of Congress, once due process was given he was cleared of any and all allegations that he was a spy.”
At the time of his arrest in March, Jiang was under federal investigation at NASA’s request for a possible conspiracy involving violations of the Arms Export Control Act, according to an FBI affidavit. Prosecutors said in court papers on April 2 that they were trying to determine whether Jiang had taken, or was seeking to take, “secret, confidential or classified information” to China.
Jiang, barred from NASA facilities late last year and fired from his job in January at the National Institute of Aerospace, was stopped on March 16 as he tried leave Dulles International Airport outside Washington for Beijing. Federal authorities alleged he lied to them by failing to disclose the computer equipment in his possession.
Jiang, 31, was one of about 281 nationals from countries designated as security threats employed at NASA facilities, according to congressional testimony in March by NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. He was blocked from resuming his work at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, after coming back from a monthlong trip to China in December, according to court filings.
He took a NASA computer, as well as an NIA external hard drive from his employer, with him on that trip, violating the agency’s security regulations, according the criminal information. Jiang’s employment at the non-profit aerospace and atmospheric research and graduate education institute was terminated on Jan. 11.
Representative Frank Wolf, a Virginia Republican, told reporters in Washington on March 7, more than a week before Jiang’s arrest, that whistle-blowers at NASA were concerned about possible security breaches at its research facilities.
A week later, Wolf named Jiang as one of the individuals identified by the whistle-blowers during an exchange with Paul Martin, NASA’s inspector general, at a hearing of the House Appropriations subcommittee led by the lawmaker. The same day, the FBI opened an investigation into Jiang for potential violations of the Arms Control Export Act, according to the bureau affidavit.
“I remain concerned that neither the prosecutors nor NASA have addressed the original question of why a NASA laptop was inappropriately provided to a restricted foreign national associated with ‘an entity of concern’ and why he was allowed to take the laptop and all of its information back to China last December,” Wolf said in an e-mailed statement.
Jiang said in court papers was targeted by Wolf for political purposes.
Prosecutors alleged that Jiang moved his departure date forward -- from April 5 to March 16 -- after his name was released during the March 13 hearing with Martin, the NASA inspector general.
Jiang, who has been in the country since 2007, obtained his doctorate from Virginia’s Old Dominion University in 2010 and worked as a researcher on the multi-scale retinex, an image enhancing project developed by NASA, according to court documents. He was going home because he had no job prospects and his student visa had expired, papers filed by Jiang’s lawyer.
Zachary Terwilliger, a spokesman for U.S. Attorney Neil MacBride in Virginia, declined to comment on Jiang’s plea.
The case is U.S. v. Jiang, 13-mj-00076, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Virginia (Newport News).
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