FBI Director James Comey told Congress Wednesday federal officials must “get smarter” about allowing foreigners with green cards to “wander around” sensitive government facilities like NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia.
“I think the issue there is when green card holders wander around a space that’s not classified, what of America’s information can they see there,” Comey said in response to a question from Rep. Lou Barletta about the indictment of two NASA officials for allowing a Chinese national unlimited access to the NASA facility.
“And honestly I’m not smart enough on the issue right now to talk to you about it in this forum. But it’s something we have to get smarter about,” Comey told the Pennsylvania Republican during a House Homeland Security Committee hearing.
The Daily Caller News Foundation reported Wednesday the indictments of two NASA supervisors for allegedly violating espionage laws by allowing Chinese national Bo Jiang “complete and unrestricted access” to the NASA facility. TheDCNF quoted an unnamed NASA employee who claimed foreigners with green cards can access sensitive areas at Langley.
Barletta asked Comey whether it is “common practice that non-U.S. citizens holding green cards, but with sworn allegiance to other countries, have the same access and privileges as a U..S. citizens at NASA centers and other facilities that may be of interest to foreign intelligence services?”
Like Comey, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson and director Nicholas Rasmussen of the National Counterterrorism Center also did not know the answer to Barletta’s question.
The Department of Defense inspector general confirmed last July that two other foreign nationals based at NASA Ames just outside of San Francisco gained unauthorized access to U.S. missile technology.
House Subcommittee on Space chairman Republican Brian Babin told TheDCNF, “We should not be inviting poorly-vetted foreigners into some of our most sensitive areas. That’s a threat to our civil space program and our national security.”
A 2014 General Accounting Office report earlier found that “weaknesses” in NASA’s export control policy will “increase the risk of unauthorized access to export-controlled technologies.”
At the time House Science, Space and Technology Committee chairman Republican Lamar Smith said, “If NASA continues to treat sensitive information so casually, our nation’s prized aerospace technology could end up in the wrong hands.”
Currently the FBI is investigating other national security weaknesses within the administration including those of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who used a private email server at her home in New York to conduct official government business throughout her tenure as the nation’s chief diplomat.
After Tuesday’s hearing, Barletta told TheDCNF he fears “this is indicative of a government-wide lackadaisical attitude toward security that places us in danger. I am very troubled by the idea that giving someone a green card also gives them access to anything a U.S. citizen would see in a supposedly secure federal workplace.”
Green card holders are foreign nationals who are granted the status as a “legal permanent resident” in the United States.
A NASA Ames employee — who requested anonymity — told TheDCNF green card holders can access a great deal of national security information in an unclassified environment. The employee said the green card holders can access missile technology in violation of the International Traffic in Arms Regulations.
“We are pretty compromised by green card holders,” the Ames employee said. “They do have access to sensitive material. But unclassified export control information is pretty darn dangerous.”
He said the biggest security changes began in 2009 during President Barack Obama’s first year in the Oval office. There are currently about 300 foreign nationals working at NASA Ames, including one foreign national from Iran and an “impressive collection from China.”
A spokesman for NASA said she could not respond and directed inquiries to the U.S. attorney.
UPDATE: Cyber-security hurt by lax attitudes
House subcommittee appropriations chairman John Culberson said the federal indictment of two NASA supervisors “is further proof of widespread negligence at NASA and throughout the Obama Administration when it comes to protecting U.S. intellectual property and sensitive information.”
The Texas Republican also linked the massive hacking of the Office of Personnel Management disclosed earlier this year to a “lax attitude” toward cyber security measures throughout the administration.
The December 2014 hack resulted in the loss of personally identifiable information for more than 22 million federal employees, retirees and their families. OPM was not aware of the breach until April of this year.
“The Obama Administration’s lax attitude toward cyber security at federal agencies has cost millions of Americans their personal privacy, put our national security at risk, and given our foreign competitors an economic advantage,” Culberson said.