The Republican chairmen of the two House committees with NASA oversight responsibility have charged publicly that senior leadership at the space agency may have been involved in the leak of classified information to China and other nations, and that a federal criminal probe into the charges has been dropped under "political pressure." Included in the article is harsh accusation, by an unnamed staffer, "that Worden has a history of leveraging his supporters who may have connections with the White House or senior NASA management to intervene on his behalf."
The charges were raised Feb. 8 in letters to FBI Director Robert Mueller and Michael Horowitz, the Justice Department's inspector general, jointly signed by Reps. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) and Lamar Smith (R-Texas) who chair the House Appropriations Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies subcommittee and the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, respectively.
"We have been informed of an investigation that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the NASA Office of the 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 lawmakers wrote, referring to the International Traffic in Arms Regulations. "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."
According to sources at Ames and on Capitol Hill, the case involves Ames Center Director Simon P. "Pete" Worden and members of the center's staff who are not U.S. citizens. Among the technology in question is a propulsion system originally developed for missile defense applications that was adapted for NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (Ladee). Now entering thermal vacuum test at Ames, Ladee is a robotic mission designed to study the Moon's thin atmosphere and conditions near its surface from an equatorial orbit. It is scheduled for launch this summer.
Among the charges mentioned in the congressional letters are allegations that the protected technology information has been disseminated in public conferences overseas "with Chinese and other foreign officials present," and that information-protection "safeguards may not have been used or may have explicitly been ignored on multiple occasions" at Ames.
Worden, a former Air Force brigadier general with a reputation as a bureaucratic entrepreneur, has been the target of unsubstantiated allegations along the lines mentioned in the congressional letters since last summer. He is known to maintain a free-wheeling culture of innovation at Ames, encouraging young engineers and scientists regardless of their nationality to develop new ideas...