ST. PAUL, Minn. – A former U.S. Army analyst who tried to board a flight to China with electronic files containing restricted Army documents poses a danger of the "gravest sense," a prosecutor argued Tuesday in federal court.
Liangtian Yang, 26, of Lawton, Okla., is charged in Oklahoma with one count of theft of government property. During a detention hearing, investigators testified he had copies of two restricted Army field manuals on multiple launch rocket systems on his computer equipment when he was arrested last week at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
Yang had quit his job days earlier after he lost his security clearance for failing to report his marriage, prosecutors said.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeanne Graham ordered Yang to remain in custody and be transferred to Oklahoma within 10 days to face the charge against him. She said he was a flight risk.
"Obviously, danger to national security is a concern," Graham said. "There are too many questions and shadows, and maybe more light will be shed in Oklahoma."
FBI special agent Michael Stukel testified that Yang, also known as Alfred Yang, worked on experimental weapons for the Army. Along with the manuals on rocket systems, investigators found evidence indicating a classified document had once been on Yang's computer equipment but was no longer, he said.
Authorities found more documents that are being reviewed, Stukel said.
Court testimony didn't reveal why Yang may have had the documents, which are not supposed to be loaded onto personal computers or released to foreign nationals.
Yang's attorney, Scott Johnson, said his client has lived in the U.S. since 2001, became a U.S. citizen in 2006 and had been with the Oklahoma National Guard. Johnson said Yang intended to return to the U.S. after attending a university in China.
Stukel testified Yang had told Army officials he planned to attend school in China. But, he said, investigators found an e-mail in which Yang expressed interest in jobs and salary opportunities in China, suggesting Yang had no intention of returning to the U.S.
Yang lost his security clearance on Aug. 16 after Army officials learned he had failed to report the fact that he had gotten married, as required, Stukel testified. Yang's wife is a Chinese citizen.
Assistant U.S. Attorney John Docherty said things happened quickly after that: Yang quit his job at Fort Sill in Oklahoma two days later and in six more days tried to get on a one-way flight out of the country.
The fact that Yang had materials that could harm national security "represents a danger to the community in the gravest sense," Docherty said.
Yang was arrested after Oklahoma officials asked FBI and U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents in Minneapolis on Aug. 24 to do a secondary screening on him at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Yang, who had been traveling with his wife, mother-in-law and infant son, was not immediately arrested but stayed at an area hotel while the computers were searched, according to court testimony. He was arrested Thursday.
Johnson noted Yang cooperated with agents and stayed in Minnesota even though he had his passport and money.
"If he had any intention to flee he could've fled at that point. He did not," Johnson said.