A Chinese scientist who worked at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton will plead not guilty to lying to federal investigators and wants a jury trial, his attorney said Thursday.
Bo Jiang worked for a Hampton-based NASA contractor until January. He was questioned at Dulles International Airport outside Washington as he prepared to board a China-bound plane and was later charged with lying to federal agents about the computer hardware he was carrying.
Speaking to reporters after a brief proceeding at the Newport News federal courthouse Thursday, Jiang's attorney, Fernando Groene, called the case a "witch hunt."
"They think he was running away," Groene said. "He was going home. He had lost his job and he had been unsuccessful in finding other work."
Jiang's arrest arose from an FBI investigation into possible violations of the Arms Control Export Act. The inquiry was spurred by U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Fairfax County, who chairs a House subcommittee that oversees NASA.
In a series of hearings and news conferences over the past several weeks, Wolf has accused NASA of lax security procedures that have allowed foreign workers such as Jiang improper access to sensitive information.
"I'm not going to try the case here, and I'm not going to let Congressman Wolf try it, either," Groene said. "If the government wants to call Congressman Wolf as a witness, we'll be glad to cross-examine him."
In an affidavit filed in connection with the arrest, an FBI agent said Jiang previously had traveled to China with a NASA-owned laptop computer believed to contain sensitive information.
Groene, a former federal prosecutor, noted that Jiang has not been charged with any espionage-related offense. The lying charge is based on an FBI agent's allegation that he failed to fully disclose the computer equipment he had with him.
Jiang, 31, has a doctorate in electrical and computer engineering from Old Dominion University. He had worked two years at the National Institute of Aerospace, a nonprofit research center near NASA Langley that contracts with the federal space agency.
Jiang's departure from the institute was not related to his job performance, Groene said. He said his visa was due to expire soon.
Jiang has been in the custody of U.S. marshals since his arrest. Dressed in an oversize red jumpsuit, he listened to a translation of Thursday's court proceedings through headphones.
Thursday's hearing, held to determine whether Jiang can be released from custody, was continued until March 28 at Groene's request to allow more preparation time for the defense.
"He will not flee," Groene told reporters. "He is not a danger to the community.
"He wants to be vindicated."
Bill Sizemore, 757-446-2276, firstname.lastname@example.org