Late Wednesday, Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) issued a statement about a recently-completed independent study of NASA’s “Foreign National Access Management”, or FNAM, efforts, including security and export control issues, a hot issue for Wolf in recent years. And Wolf made clear he was not happy with what he saw. “Frankly, I was taken aback at the breadth and depth of security challenges identified across NASA,” he said in the statement, adding that the report “confirms not only the serious security challenges that need to be addressed, but a persistent organizational culture that fails to hold center leadership, employees and contractors accountable for security violations. This must change.”
The report itself is not publicly available, as NASA considers it “Sensitive But Unclassified,” which Wolf also criticized. “I am deeply disappointed the agency has restricted access to the report. The report should be made public as soon as possible, with any necessary redactions in the interest of national security.”
The executive summary of the report is available, though, and it doesn’t sound nearly as dire as Wolf’s statements. “NASA staff members are dedicated, knowledgeable, committed to the mission, and genuinely happy to be working for NASA,” the summary states. “NASA interviewees for this study were candid, cooperative, and eager to both offer suggestions and be involved in problem solving. Most NASA employees understood the challenge to share with, as well as to protect information from foreign nationals.”
The summary also stated that “NASA leaders have already taken a number of positive steps to correct some of the weaknesses” it its FNAM processes, which were outlined in a letter by NASA administrator Charles Bolden to the study’s chairman, former US Attorney General Richard Thornburgh. Bolden, in the letter, largely accepted the report’s recommendations and discussed how the agency will, or already was, implementing them.
As for the “persistent organizational culture” issue that Wolf raised, the closest that the publicly available document comes to addressing this are recommendations to “improve accountability” and to “guard against the tendency to revert back to prior lax habits.” The report also suggests that NASA should “decrease the competitiveness, and correspondingly, increase cooperation between Centers,” a recommendation that would have implications—and challenges—that go far beyond the issues of the report itself. (In his letter, Bolden wrote that “NASA’s culture combines the richness of diversity and appropriately healthy competition among our Centers, while fostering an overall NASA team environment.”)
NASA commissioned the report at the behest of Wolf, after he criticized the agency for “security violations at NASA’s Ames and Langley research centers.” That included the arrest of Langley researcher and Chinese national Bo Jiang last March on allegations of espionage. Jiang, though, was later found to have no sensitive or controlled documents on his computer, only “sexually explicit images,” and was deported. The incident, and the moratorium on foreign national visits to NASA centers that followed, also caused hassles for NASA when it nearly derailed a science conference at NASA Ames last fall.