Audit to probe reports of leaked military secrets from NASA facilities

The NASA office of the inspector general will audit NASA’s Ames research facility in the wake of a report on violations of International Trade in Arms Regulations (ITAR) laws at a storied California space-research facility.

Documents obtained by last month detail a four-year FBI investigation into the transfer of classified weapons technology -- including rocket engine tech for missile defense systems -- to China and other countries from NASA’s Ames Research Center. The documents also purport that an investigation into the security lapses that led to the event are being stonewalled.


On March 14, NASA Inspector General Paul Martin wrote to Reps. Frank Wolf, R-Va., and Chaka Fattah, D-Pa, to announce that he planned to open a broad investigation into these and other allegations, which Wolf has been urging NASA and the FBI to do.

“I wanted to inform you that the OIG is opening a new audit that will more broadly examine NASA’s controls over access by foreign nationals to its facilities,” he wrote.

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Last week, Wolf described a similar incident at Kennedy Space Center in Florida involving visits by Chinese officials, a charge NASA denied.

The news of the Inspector General's probe came a day after Martin testified before a congressional panel on the fiscal challenges NASA is facing, in part due to the sequester.

“Because NASA received less than half its requested budget for commercial crew development last year, the Agency extended to 2017 the earliest it expects to obtain commercial crew transportation services to the [International Space Station] – a date uncomfortably close to the Station’s currently scheduled 2020 retirement,” Martin wrote on the OIG site.

“Against this bleak budgetary backdrop, Agency managers continue to face significant challenges managing NASA’s diverse portfolio of science, exploration, and aeronautics projects.”

Located in the heart of Silicon Valley, the Ames Research Center has been a center of high tech innovation for more than 60 years. As the space agency’s mission has changed over the years since it was built, NASA has turned it into a commercial research facility, leasing out space to a number of companies including rocket firm SpaceX and tech giant Google, which leases 42 acres there through a holding company called Planetary Ventures.

The accusations a Ames stem from a reported ITAR violation, a ruling that governs the export of defense weaponry. In 2006, Ames adapted specialized rocket engines -- originally developed for the Pentagon missile defense “Kinetic Kill Vehicle” program -- for a moon lander prototype that ultimately became NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE). The robotic moon orbiter is set to launch on Aug. 12, 2013.

Information on guidance and terrain-mapping systems from the Tomahawk cruise missile and a radar from the F-35 were also shared, according to one report in Aviation Week.

"When I mentioned the tech that was compromised to the Armed Services Committee, their jaws just dropped," a congressional source told