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back to article Feds cuff ex-NASA boffin at airport amid state-secret leak scare

An ex-NASA scientist was arrested as he tried to board a plane to Beijing amid claims of a security breach at the space agency. Chinese national Bo Jiang, 31, who had been working for the National Institute of Aeronautics at NASA's Langley Research Centre, was cuffed by the FBI at Dulles airport in Washington. The Feds pounced …

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Facepalm

FFS, wouldn't a return ticket and physically posting the stuff to the embassy have been better ideas?

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No kidding, a return ticket would have been cheaper as well! I don't know whats worse, the fact that such a basic attempt at espionage nearly worked, or that he was employed in the first place. If this isn't some kind of double agent scenario I hope a few folks at spook central and NASA take a long walk off a short pier.

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Actually carrying the goods is so old school!

I wonder if NASA security prevented him from outsourcing his job to China ...

[For details see http://forums.theregister.co.uk/forum/1/2013/01/16/developer_oursources_job_china/ ]

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Happy

Re: Basic is Best

Basic ploys to beat security policies are almost always the best route. It is often complexity that causes plans to fail. Like with many things, over thinking is bad.

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Unhappy

Never trust the mail

@S4qFBxkFFg:

Mail delivered to embassies with adverse interests to the host country get X-rayed and even searched. Hand carried to the CN Embassy would have been better.

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Re: Never trust the mail

A pizza delivery would have worked well. Chinese takeaway not so well.

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Return ticket yes. Even better return ticket to somewhere else and onward journey china booked with cash at last minute.

Posting incredibly stupid as all their incoming mail is intercepted.

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More to the point

He did this before??? And he was allowed to return?

Well that's either a gross oversight by NASA and heads will/should/must roll or its a double bluff by a US intelligence agency that's gone badly wrong.

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Facepalm

SIM card

Ummmm is not saying 'I have a mobile phone with me' enough?

I have a mobile phone.

Oh. And an LCD display, a 3G, WiFi and Bluetooth antennas, SD card, ummm, and I suppose I'd better declare a GPS mapping system, music playing system, remote internet communications system and it can make phone calls, too.

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Re: it can make phone calls, too.

aint necesarily so...

could have been an iphone

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Anonymous Coward

Re: SIM card

Had to up vote you after reading the comments that preceded yours.

Nothing in the report suggested espionage. In fact the guy was charged for not declaring all the media and devices he was carrying. Something almost anyone who was asked the questions he was could be charged for.

It more looks like they are charging in with a the stated offense only so they could investigate if he had state secrets with him. Nothing in the article suggested that he did.

For decades this economy progressed by being able to attract the best talents from the rest of the world, particularly ASIA. Now these countries are advancing and are able to offer their talents decent incomes or as good as they were able to make here. So more of their best talents are staying home. A lot of the developments and advances that were seen in the WEST particularly in the US is now staying in ASIA as their talents remain home and advance their own economies.

So what do we do. Hide behind the illusion that the only reason China and other countries are advancing so rapidly in the technology sphere is that they are stealing our intellectual property.

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Holmes

Re: SIM card

"Ummmm is not saying 'I have a mobile phone with me' enough?"

Or, perhaps, he had an additional SIM card besides the one in his phone.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: SIM card

So?

I often have a spare sim in my wallet, two if I am going abroad as I'll carry one for my destination if I have one...

I'll also often have an old 2nd laptop in my suitcase as well as the one I am carrying in hand luggage... he probably just said what he had in his hand luggage...

Anyway if you really wanted to send data... there is this thing called the internet... fairly fast you know.. and you can get things called pay as you go sim cards....

And you could easily hide microSD cards on your person in places that would be missed easily....

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Wouldn't happen in England...

I wasn't allowed access to GCHQ because of my Irish ancestry- despite the fact that my father used to work there many years ago...

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Black Helicopters

Re: Wouldn't happen in England...

They dropped the "both parents must be native born UK citizens" requirement a while back - however, unofficially all this means in practice is that you may get as far as the interview, but you'll never actually get a job offer...

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Wouldn't happen in England...

Well there is the slight issue of the IRA.....

Maybe not now, but the past is not that far away....

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Joke

American Intelligence - That old contradiction.

They finally caught him from a FaceBook update which read...

"Heading back to China with more secrets from those US Capitalist Dogs. LOL!"

...and the fact he was carrying a dangerous looking bottle of mineral water.

The other evidence was circumstantial and missed by the authorities on several occasions.

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WTF?

Hasn't he heard of SFTP?

He wouldn't even have to get off his arse to send the material and then book a return flight to somewhere other than China and get a forwarding flight from there.

I don't think the intelligence agencies are even trying anymore.

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Trollface

Re: Hasn't he heard of SFTP?

He was going to use a VPN, but it kept getting rejected at the other end for some reason.

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He couldnt have used the internet...

as this article explains...

http://www.theonion.com/articles/nasa-announces-plan-to-bring-wifi-to-its-headquart,2299/

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Boffin

He's not actually been charged with spying just yet.

".....Jiang appeared in court on Monday charged with making false statements to US authorities by failing to disclose all of the electronic devices he was carrying...." I assume that is enough to let them hold him whilst they trawl through the devices he didn't declare. It would be a bit embarrassing if they don't actually find any pilfered secrets!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: He's not actually been charged with spying just yet.

Why would that be a bit embarrassing as he is not charged with spying.

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Trollface

Apperently...

...it's an offence under US law for someone to lie to a federal agent. Not being a Yank, I don't know if it's true or not, but given the apparently paranoid state of the law makers over there, it wouldn't surprise me. Still, it makes a useful hook upon which to hang someone onto, whilst more serious and probably effective offences are ... erm... discovered.

Probably just as well we don''t have a similar law on the books: If we did, it might be the case that well over half of those sitting in both of our legislative houses might be banged up for lying to electors!

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Re: Apperently...

It _is_ an offence to lie to a Fed. It's a felony all on its lonesome, worth five years in a Federal pen. That's why they tend to move in pairs: one for you to lie to, and one to be a witness to the lie. <http://www.federalcriminallawyer.us/2010/12/17/truth-and-falsity-in-federal-prosecutions-for-making-a-false-statement/>.

Basically. 'cause he lied to them, and they can prove that he lied, they can lock him up for up to five years even if they can't prove anything else.

This is why when Feds come knocking, your first and last words should be "I want my lawyer." Do not confirm or deny anything. Just repeat "I want my lawyer."

Lying to non-Fed law enforcement is not a felony... yet.

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Angel

Re: Apperently...

Well, if someone at customs asks if you've got nothing to declare, replying "I want my lawyer" is not going to get you on the plane, is it.

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Re: Apperently...

if the boys from Customs are checking on you on your way _out_, you're in trouble. US Customs doesn't usually check people when they're leaving... unless there's a reason to do so. If Customs is looking at you on your way out, you're not getting on that plane. If Customs _and_ the FBI are looking at you on your way out, you need a lawyer. Quickly.

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List your devices

Tell us exactly what electronic devices you are carrying, down to individual memory cards and even SIM cards - but without being allowed to check first.

Now tell us exactly what coins you are carrying in your coin purse, down to each individual cent - again without checking.

If you can't tell us you're obviously a spy.

But then if he was spying, why on earth would he try to transport electronic files physically? He could trivially encrypt them, upload them somewhere, and put the link on a message board.

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Re: List your devices

"But then if he was spying, why on earth would he try to transport electronic files physically? He could trivially encrypt them, upload them somewhere, and put the link on a message board."

Because he made a mistake and was overconfident after months of working for NASA and one prior 'run' without any suspicion?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: List your devices

Christopher: "Tell us exactly what electronic devices you are carrying, down to individual memory cards and even SIM cards - but without being allowed to check first."

I agree that is very weird. When I go on vacation I take a virtual Best Buy store in my carry-on luggage; there's not one chance in a thousand that I could remember each and every gadget. Perhaps I'll print up a nice list just in case anyone asks. Do I need a BOM (right down to each IC) for each gadget?

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Re: List your devices

"When I go on vacation I take a virtual Best Buy store in my carry-on" .

Precisely - when you are going on VACATION and entering the US you might get searched, but you won't get arrested if you can't remember all your bits. This guy was questioned and searched LEAVING the US - they obviously had him targeted and asked him about what he was carrying as part of the interrogation. Charging him with just enough to hold him to allow for a full search of the contents of the media is a good move.

I have travelled a lot into and out of the US and there is usually nothing beyond standard airport security for departures, wherever you are going. This was a targeted stop.

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Re: List your devices

@ AC 13:49 GMT

"there's not one chance in a thousand that I could remember each and every gadget"

That may be true for you -- personally, I think that I'D remember that I was carrying a SECOND laptop AND that extra hard drive... That level of forgetfulness seems beyond me. He could have probably got away with forgetting or "forgetting" the extra SIM card, but forgetting the extra computer just seems unrealistic to me.

Basic rule of thumb: If you're going to break a BIG law, make sure NEVER to break any of the SMALL ones while doing so, because THOSE are the ones that will get you pulled aside in the first place. (Not that I would actually know anything about breaking any laws... *A-HENH*!)

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don't break the small laws

Timmy McVeigh, the bright lad who blew up the Oklahoma City Federal Building, got caught because _his vehicle did not have a license plate_. An Oklahoma State policeman spotted Timmy driving down the highway without proper plates, stopped him, and then noticed that Timmy had a pistol under his jacket. The statie dropped Timmy-boy's ass in stir for the moving violation and carrying a concealed firearm without a license. Two or three days later they realised what they'd caught. If Timmy had simply bothered to get even a fake license plate he'd have not have been stopped. If he'd simply not have felt the need to carry a gun, he'd just have got a ticket for the missing license plate. If he hadn't been sitting in stir when the staties finally got around to looking at the wanted posters, he'd have been back home with the rest of his survivalist pals and US.gov would have had to send in the army, or at least the local National Guard, to dig him out. The body count would almost certainly have been quite interesting.

But, no, Timmy-boy just had to show his contempt for the law by driving without license plates.

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Re: don't break the small laws

@ James O'Shea

Actually, the one that always springs to mind for me happened locally some years ago. A state police officer, patrolling his stretch of the interstate highway one hot lazy summer day, saw a guy driving a large rental truck while wearing earphones. He pulled the truck over and was just going to let the guy go with a warning... But, as he was standing near the truck, he smelled a sweet, sort of... herbal... aroma coming out of the box. Asking for and receiving (grudging) permission, he opened the back of the truck and found it PACKED with trash bags full of smoking herb -- which would have made it to market if not for a pair of earphones being worn at the wrong time.

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Anonymous Coward

Spin, spin, spin

There was an arrest warrant out for him. So by the time he got to the airport, only bungling incompetence would have allowed him to get onto the plane.

Without that, I doubt any homeland security officer is smart enough to have identified the substantially raised potential for espionage in this case.

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WTF?

The first question should be

Why should we, an organization that handles sensitive government information and does basic research, hire a foreign national from a country we know to be interested in both those topics?

//granted him a security clearance, as well???

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Re: The first question should be

The only rational explanation (assuming some of the best funded and equipped spook operations actually have a clue) would be to feed them disinformation and try and discover any network of spooks that might exist.

The more likely explanation probably involves somebody being blackmailed into allowing it or just general stupidity. My money is on a picture of someone rogering a sheep.

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Re: The first question should be

"Why should we, an organization that handles sensitive government information and does basic research, hire a foreign national from a country we know to be interested in both those topics?"

Well probably for the same reasons that applied here in the UK back in the 70's and 80's. During this time I often had nationals from east European countries working on sensitive projects, their clearance was basically subject to their personal circumstances and what direction the diplomatic wind was blowing in.

Aside: Good article here http://www.theatlanticwire.com/national/2013/03/nasa-china-fbi/63286/

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Thumb Down

"An entity of concern"

Don't you just love the straightforward and jargon-free plain English that they use?

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Stop

Suspicious

If this is really a national security concern why are we hearing about it from a congressman before a proper investigation has even taken place? This smells of someone trying to make a name for them selves or a fall guy being used to distract from something else. Like others have pointed out there is too many aspects of this story that shout amateur. The one way ticket, embassy, prior history marking him as suspicious, etc.

Was the Chinese national really a spy for the Chinese government or was he trying to sell information to the highest bidder? Is this orchestrated FUD? Why not just 'accidentally' copy the data to a machine infected with some Chinese APT malware? This just seems really too sloppy for something state sponsored considering how sophisticated these botnets are getting.

The devil is in the details and this show they're putting on doesn't help.

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Anonymous Coward

mind boggling

presumably it wasn't a red herring, i.e. as he was boarding that plane, on a one-way ticket from Washingto to BEJING (Jesus Christ), with a luggage full of US secrets - 274 other high-ranking Nasa employes, all true American nationals (gee, maybe even native Americans?), were happily - what? Surely not taking a bus to see Disneyland in Mexico City? Or jumping off Golden Gate, to begin their epic swimming journey towards their true, Chinese homeland?

Frankly, the Chinese should protest, and protest strongly, for this story tarnishes the well-earned Chinese reputation for lifting stuff discreetly.

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WTF?

Never travel direct; never use a credit card; never book a flight to eventual destination ...

Never travel direct (Nick Leeson and CHOY, Hon-Tim); never use a credit card (the FBI can have real time displays in their offices); never book a flight to eventual destination (far better to fly to Canada on a return ticket and then buy a new ticket, preferably from another airport and NOT Westbound, either). Stopping over in the UK is not advised (password or 4 years) but France is OK.

The computers and hard drives could have been shipped to a friend, or Chinese restaurant in YYZ.

Put TOR and PGP on your computer and put real hot files on waterproof SD chips, wrap them in a condom and swallow. Better still, compress the files and visit an InterNet cafe. Messages are best passed through travel web sites - just like drug dealers do.

And if anyone asks what in your bag, say nothing and just let them look.

Obviously this was not a government prank, the Chinese are experienced at this sort of thing.

P.S. Taking the SIM from your telephone makes it impossible for airport data sniffers to work. And now they have to get search warrants.

Today's word is TSA - to keep those computers humming.

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Re: Never travel direct; never use a credit card; never book a flight to eventual destination ...

>Taking the SIM from your telephone

It doesn't say that he took the SIM out of his phone - there are many legitimate reasons for carrying multiple SIMs when travelling.

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Big Brother

Re: Never travel direct; never use a credit card; never book a flight to eventual destination ...

"never use a credit card"

Hate to break it, but paying cash for a flight will immediately get you flagged there and then for investigation faster than pretty much anything else short of recording a martyrdom video in the departure lounge.

Removing the battery from your 'phone renders it immune to being screwed with far better than just popping the SIM, too.

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Re: Never travel direct; never use a credit card; never book a flight to eventual destination ...

Not in this day and age. IIRC almost all smartphones use a standard 3.6-3.7v voltage. A savvy investigator would have a way to fake a battery using those specs and knowledge of where the correct pins are located.

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Re: Never travel direct; never use a credit card; never book a flight to eventual destination ...

"recording a martyrdom video in the departure lounge."

The visual for that one is priceless. I imagine everyone wandering into frame with "Hi Mom" signs would detract from the impact a bit

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Thumb Up

Re: Never travel direct; never use a credit card; never book a flight to eventual destination ...

I'm now wondering just how long a member of the public would go to jail for doing this, and if Trigger Happy TV could have got away with it ten years ago.

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Laptop vs Laptops....

What is his proficiency with English? Maybe he said, "I have laptop....", which in some languages COULD be plural or singular. Now, if the questioning agent asked "HOW many laptops?" and the man replied "ONE", then he's lying.

Do we know whether they identified themselves properly? If on an ordinary city street well-dressed thugs chose to question a target/mark about his or her bag and types of electronics, most sane people would and SHOULD lie in response. Even if someone wears boots, a belted badge, has a holstered gun, and wears a polo shirt and a jacket saying "FBI" and hops out of a car with flashing lights, one STILL should say nothing unless hearing "FEDERAL AGENT". Flashing a damned badges means nothing, and seeing papers that are purportedly a warrant mean nothing. These days, people can pretend to be federal agents, and then get arrested, and be walking the streets the next few hours!

Doubt me? See:

http://www.sfexaminer.com/local/2013/03/warrant-issued-san-francisco-man-accused-posing-fbi-agent

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Stop

Re: Laptop vs Laptops....

"What is his proficiency with English?"

Enough to work at NASA, where plural mix-ups could cause some issues!

"Do we know whether they identified themselves properly?"

Wasn't it in the airport? As he tried to board a plane? Never been mugged in that situation myself!

And when I have been stopped by plain-clothes Customs agents and asked a question, I - most people - have said "And who are you?" before answering.

"Doubt me?"

In an airport?

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Big Brother

heard this one before

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wen_Ho_Lee

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