The director of Mountain View's NASA Ames Research Center is embroiled in what is either a scandal or a witch-hunt over accusations that secret rocket propulsion technology was given to China.
The allegations were first made in a Feb. 8 story in Aviation Week which draws from letters from two Republican Congress members who chair the House committees that oversee NASA, Frank Wolf of Virginia and Lamar Smith of Texas. They write that "we are deeply concerned that political pressure may be a factor" in why the Justice Department has not allowed indictments backed by the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's office after an investigation began in 2009.
The letters allege secret information was leaked from Ames, including missile defense rocket propulsion technology being tested at Ames for adaptation to NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer, or LADEE.
"Aviation Week reports that "according to sources at Ames and on Capitol Hill, the case involves Ames Center Director Simon P. "Pete" Worden and members of the center's staff who are not U.S. citizens."
"I think you've had violations of the law," Wolf told Aviation Week. "You've had the FBI look at this. You've had the U.S. attorneys make a decision to move ahead, and you've had somebody stop it at the Justice Department. I think you have a criminal, and a scandal here."
On Feb. 12 a statement from Melinda Haag, the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of California, contradicted Wolf. She denied that her office had sought an indictment.
"I am aware of allegations our office sought authority from [the Justice Department in Washington, D.C., to bring charges in a particular matter and that our request was denied," Ms. Haag said, according to the Washington Times. "Those allegations are untrue. No such request was made, and no such denial was received."
Director Worden is accused of leveraging his connections to keep himself from being indicted. He addressed the allegations in a statement to NASA Ames employees on Monday.
"I take very seriously our responsibility to safeguard sensitive information, so I wanted to let you -- Ames employees -- know the facts. To the best of our knowledge I am not, nor have I been, the subject of an International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) investigation. I have offered to talk to the news reporter, meet with the US representatives and/or testify under oath regarding export control issues at Ames," Worden said in the email.
Worden was not able to comment to the Voice. "NASA Headquarters has directed us to refer any media calls on this topic to the Department of Justice," said NASA Ames spokesman Michael Mewhinney.
Keith Cowing of the blog NASA Watch notes that "It's rather odd that Aviation Week would make this statement about Worden's personal 'involvement' given that his name is not even contained in the letters (linked below). What is especially baffling is how Rep. Wolf, an avowed China hater, could think that a former Brigadier General - someone who worked throughout the Cold War to defend the U.S. against potential foes such as China, would suddenly - and knowingly - allow his employees to leak things to China or to condone such behavior."