Congress, NASA

Wolf criticizes NASA for “persistent organizational culture” that creates security issues

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.

26 comments to Wolf criticizes NASA for “persistent organizational culture” that creates security issues

  • amightywind

    The similarity of the Chinese “Jade Rabbit” rover to the Mars Exploration rovers should give NASA pause. NASA likely has been robbed blind. Frank Wolf is right to be concerned.

    • Coastal Ron

      amightywind said:

      The similarity of the Chinese “Jade Rabbit” rover to the Mars Exploration rovers should give NASA pause.

      Maybe you should keep up with the news more – the “Jade Rabbit” has more in common with the old Yugo car than it does with any American exploration robotic system. Apparently the Chinese are still relying on old Communist partners for their designs… ;-)

      • amightywind

        I always gave grudging respect to Russian spacecraft and rover designs because they were unique and they worked. Not so with the Chinese, who seem start all technology projects copying someone else, which I find annoying.

        • Coastal Ron

          amightywind said:

          Not so with the Chinese, who seem start all technology projects copying someone else, which I find annoying.

          And so now you understand that they certainly weren’t using stolen NASA plans for their crude little rover… I know U.S. college students that could have come up with a more reliable design.

          • Malmesbury

            The stolen technology meme for the Chinese is actually more often false than it is true.

            What they tend to do is to buy up old systems/technology, produce their own version and proceed from there. A rather sensible way to create a capability.

            For example, they *bought* the design for Soyuz, complete with a design for a Soyuz upgrade. From this they engineered the Shenzhou program…

    • Hiram

      “The similarity of the Chinese ‘Jade Rabbit’ rover to the Mars Exploration rovers should give NASA pause.”

      Well, Yutu does move and take pictures. But the similarity largely ends there. In fact, NASA is probably delighted, at least selfishly, in that dimwitted geopolitical exceptionalism will drive more federal funds into space robotics. In the wake of the Chang’e-3 success, Wolf demanded that NASA stop chasing asteroids (which the Chinese are smart enough to have ignored) and invest more in lunar exploration.

      The idea that planetary rover development constitutes a security and export control issue is hilarious. If you’re worried about Chinese technical developments that can be considered at least economically threatening, you shouldn’t ignore the ARJ21 and C919 commercial airliners. Massive development and sale of those by China are going to eat the lunch of Boeing and Airbus. Yutu isn’t going to eat anyones lunch.

      Wolf has Chinese demons under his bed.

      • amightywind

        Today’s autonomous rovers are tomorrow’s armored attack drones.

        • Hiram

          “Today’s autonomous rovers are tomorrow’s armored attack drones.”

          Ah, ha, ha, ha, ha …

          We’ll all dive under a rock when a Yutu comes wheeling around the corner, threatening to … photograph us.

          If you think that Yutu represents the Chinese capabilities in telerobotics, you’d be horrified to learn the truth. China (government and universities) have had ambitious programs in terrestrial telerobotics for a decade or more. NASA hasn’t been robbed blind at all, except their destination has been hijacked, I guess, by the Chinese. I mean, we own the Moon, no?

          The annual meeting of the International Conference on Robotics and Automation, which is a leading IEEE forum, was held in Beijing a few years ago. That meeting is held in places recognized for telerobotic accomplishment. Space robotics was a TINY part of the program.

          Yutu is a very visible symbol of that accomplishment, but it hardly demonstrates the sophistication of Chinese telerobotic capabilities. Telerobotically, Yutu isn’t hard. And no, they didn’t get those capabilities from NASA. In fact, NASA got its capabilities largely from commercial telerobotics.

          Any of those demons under your bed? Or maybe in your closet.

      • E.P. Grondine

        Hi Hiram –

        It appears that you have forgotten CE2’s asteroid fly-by.

        • Hiram

          “It appears that you have forgotten CE2′s asteroid fly-by.”

          You mean with regard to the Chinese chasing asteroids? What Wolf demanded was that the U.S. stop chasing asteroids *with people*. Yours is a fair point that I should have made that explicit. I don’t think Frank Wolf had any problem with NEAR, nor does he lose sleep over Dawn, or OSIRIS-REx. (But as to losing sleep, if it weren’t for those Chinese under his bed …)

          Of course, his December 19, 2013 letter to the President was pretty explicit in this regard. He said … “I have been concerned by this administration’s misguided focus on capturing an asteroid to place in lunar orbit for American astronauts to visit.”

          The Chinese chase asteroids robotically, just as we continue to do. It’s a terrific way of proving your precision astrodynamic smarts, as well as trajectory and approach planning.

          • E.P. Grondine

            Hi Hiram –

            You still do not get it.

            “The Chinese chase asteroids robotically, just as we continue to do. It’s a terrific way of proving your precision astrodynamic smarts, as well as trajectory and approach planning.”

            This is actually the development of an applied technology, not simply something done for the fun of it.

            You probably wish the world would ignore it, but the US sent its mitigation plan to the UN committee on space. Russia and China will be doing the same thing shortly.

            You keep on repeating 40 year old impact hazard estimates. I wish you would catch up with today’s knowledge of the impact hazard before opining on it.

            • Hiram

              “You still do not get it.”

              I have never quoted, nor have been “opining upon” impact hazard estimates. You’re just making that up. Is that how you do your “science”? Impacts are real threats, and we should be doing more to mitigate them. But, as I’ve been saying for a long time (though not in this thread), the human space flight part of ARM simply isn’t an effective way to do it.

              I never said anyone was doing anything for the “fun of it”. That’s an amusing characterization. Developing applied technology is hugely important. If you want to mitigate impact of a large approaching asteroid, astrodynamic smarts and skilled trajectory and approach planning are essential. Maybe the Chinese want to be able to deflect an approaching asteroid just as much as we would. But perhaps you’re saying we shouldn’t let them do it?

              If you want to argue with me, then please at least argue with something that I said. I have no desire to participate in illusory and strawman arguments.

    • Dark Blue Nine

      “The similarity of the Chinese ‘Jade Rabbit’ rover to the Mars Exploration rovers should give NASA pause.”

      Because they applied a rocker-bogie that any idiot can copy off CNN Mars program footage to a Moon rover can’t last one lunar night in an operable condition.

      Yeah, that’s a real Sputnik moment, right there.

      How stupid.

  • James

    “NASA’s culture combines the richness of diversity and appropriately healthy competition among our Centers, while fostering an overall NASA team environment.”

    Competition between Centers is also a colossal waste of taxpayer dollars. Millions are spent each year competing for work; sometimes a win brings the Center a mission; most of the time not so.

    You can take advantage of your ‘richness of diversity’ in a collaborative setting as much as a competitive one. And you can, within a collaborative environment, establish friendly competition within the team.

  • Jim_LAX

    Just another bombastic blast from Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) who chooses to over state the situation rather than offer any creative solutions. I guess votes count more than action in his book.

  • Michael Listner

    In Wolf’s case votes don’t matter since he’s set to retire after his term is up.

  • seamus

    Oh my god, oh my god, NASA has been infiltrated! I think it was an Asian gang or something… There was this guy, he looked Asian! He was speaking in another language, I’m pretty sure it was… Asian!

  • guest

    NASA’s culture permits those in authority to do pretty much whatever they want, whether they break the law and Constitution or not.

    I think we have seen a lot of people without the education or experience moved into leadership positions, and in case no one noticed, it didn’t work.

    There is hardly a program left anymore.

    Time for some serious house cleaning.

  • Dark Blue Nine

    Frank is the Senator who cried Wolf.

    He accused Ames/Worden of export control violations. The U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California found none.

    He then accused the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California of not indicting Worden due to political pressure. The FBI found no evidence of such behavior.

    He then accused Langley researcher and Chinese national Bo Jiang of spying. The FBI again found no evidence of spying, only porn.

    NASA shut down the NTRS during Jiang’s investigation. NASA shut down the NTRS for porn. Because Frank was the Senator who cried Wolf.

    There’s no doubt that organizations within China are actively trying to steal intellectual property and sensitive technical information from the U.S. One only needs to read about hacking incidents in any newspaper to see the evidence.

    But this Senator couldn’t separate fact from fiction in a bookstore, and as a result, actual harm has been done to NASA’s technical databases and enormous law enforcement resources have been misdirected away from actual counterintelligence activities.

    Here’s hoping no one listens to the Senator who cried Wolf again through his retirement. What a poor, senile judge of reality.

    • vulture4

      As far as i can tell, the porn was on Bo’s personal computer, not one belonging to NASA. It was implied he downloaded it over an official NASA network but no evidence was presented. In fact, accessing porn sites from a NASA network is supposed to trigger an improper use alarm, so it’s not clear how this could have been done.

      • Malmesbury

        This is the classic behavior of a security organisation that has screwed up with an arrest – find *something*

        In the UK, a favorite of mine was the story of how the police no-knocked a house after a report of a silhouette of someone holding a gun was seen. Turned out that the guy who lived there had a Lara Croft promotional figure from the video rental shop he worked at in his living room.

        The police tried to charge him with having a weapon – the dummy guns held by the figure!!!

  • I bet Frank Wolf never goes out for Chinese food.

  • vulture4

    The big problem NASA has is that access by foreign nationals is far too DIFFICULT to be competitive with other launch sites in an era when both science and commercial operations are international. It can take months to get a clearance. And then you can only get a temporary clearance for up to 30 days, but if you need anything longer than that (say a launch slips) the foreign national can’t stay over 30 days without a higher-level clearance, which takes lots of money and time. What sense does that make???? It’s safe to let someone have access for 30 days, but we won’t let him stay 31 because he might be a terrorist???

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