House Appropriations Demands NASA Explain Chinese ISS Comments

Wolf Bolden Letter 3 5 2012
House Commerce, Science, Justice, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Frank Wolf wrote to NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden yesterday demanding that the NASA Administrator clarify his comments regarding possible participation by China on the International Space Station.The five ISS partners met on March 1st in Quebec City to discuss the future of the orbiting laboratory. During the discussions, Russia’s Vladimir Popovkin, Director General of the Russian Space Agency, and Jean-Jacques Dordian, head of the European Space Agency, stated their support for adding China and India as partners on the International Space Station. NASA Administrator Bolden reminded his fellow ISS partners that NASA is prohibited by law from bilateral activities with the Chinese. NASA’s Administrator then went on to state that he hoped that the space partners would continue their conversations with the Chinese. That suggestion did not sit well with the House CSJ Subcommittee Chairman, who is the author of the prohibition on bilateral activities between China and NASA.

This isn’t the first time that someone from the Obama Administration has crossed paths with Chairman Wolf regarding the prohibition on bilateral activities with China. Last year, the Office of Science and Technology Policy, and in particular its Chief Dr. John Holdren, disregarded the prohibition on bilateral space activities between China and the U.S.. For that, Congress threatened OSTP’s budget with a significant cut.

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  1. The right type of space cooperation with China is in the US national interest. The blind hatred of China by politicians such as Congressman Wolf is NOT in the US national interest. By following the law – but encouraging more free, forward-looking, less-hamstrung folks to continue to look into the subject – Charlie was not only doing his job; he was doing his duty.

    • Do you, and I ask because I certainly don’t myself, know whether Chairman Wolf’s lead on opposing bilateral activities between the U.S. and China is due to “blind hatred” of the Chinese? Why do you really believe that a Subcommittee Chairman could get such a prohibition enacted by Congress, with the Senate in Democratic hands, if his opposition were based solely on “blind hatred” of China? Could it be instead because there are real security concerns due to the very close linkage between China’s civilian and military space efforts?

      Did you read Chairman Wolf’s letter, which was included our post? What specifically do you find inaccurate in Wolf’s claims, as made in his letter?

      NASA Administrator Bolden, as a Branch Senate confirmed appointee, was not elected and therefore does not enjoy the privilege of substituting his own views of what’s best for the U.S. over that of Congress.

  2. If Cong. Wolf were acting in the best interests of the United States, he would investigate – as is his duty – both the negatives about working with China (e.g., theft of technology and processes, etc. ) as well as the positives of working with China (e.g., adding another partnership and capability to the quiver when right now we are 100% dependent on Russia for crew transportation). He has made no attempt to do ; you mention ‘China’, and his knee jerks. Call that ‘blind hatred’ or whatever other phrase, it all amounts to Cong. Wolf not doing his job – and other congresscritters not doing their jobs and opposing his one-side, anti-Chinese crusade.

  3. You sound as though you have some specific knowledge of the due diligence Congressman Wolf and other members of Congress in both the House and Senate conducted when considering the none-too-insignificant prohibition on bilateral corporation with China. Is that the case?

  4. Yes, it’s called ‘hearings’; including any evidence, at all, during a hearing that someone like Mr. Wolf has done the slightest bit of homework, as his duty requires him to do. He hasn’t.

    • So, you are under the impression that the primary means by which Rep. Wolf and other members of Congress get their information about China’s espionage activities is through hearings open to the public? And thanks for answering my question of whether or not you read Rep. Wolf’s letter to NASA Administrator Bolden–you obviously didn’t. Guess you didn’t see the hearing at which Gen. Burgess testified.

  5. 1. NASA is pretty much unclassified. Its missions are recounted in meticulous detail in government publications, its technology is described in “Tech Notes” and elsewhere, its operations are visible on YouTube, etc. It’s always been this way, it was always supposed to be this way, and no one has ever much cared.

    2. Rep. Wolf obviously cares So Very Much. So very much that it barely seems sane, yet he persists in his concern.

    3. This suggest Wolf isn’t actually motivated by concerns about NASA, but by something akin to it — which is probably the security of the US’s military and intelligence satellite systems. Our spacefaring allies (I include Russia) either lack such a large and secret establishment, or were compromised by past cooperation with China, or operate space programs which are of insignificant interest to China or other ascending and aspiring military powers, We’ve something to lose; the Europeans don’t, in other words.

    4. A test of this is whither Rep. Wolf has the same trepidations about disclosing classified space-related information to Brazil and India.

    • I’m not sure what NASA’s level of classified activities has to do with anything. But Mike, you do understand that NASA does deal with restricted items (think MarsGRAM, EarthGRAM, etc.) that are covered by ITAR, etc. In fact, some of the code that NASA is using, some of the work that JPL and others are doing, is quite classified.

      The government-wide prohibition on US-Chinese bilateral activities wasn’t specifically because of NASA. It’s gov’t-wide.

      You write as though you are in a position of expertise on Chinese security activities and congressional going’s-on. Are you a former House or Senate staffer? Have you worked in close proximity to Rep. Wolf?

  6. I’m not “in a position of expertise” on space security matters; I’m not a Congressional staffer; I haven’t worked with Frank Wolf. Satisfied? I was an aersospace engineer for 20 years. I had a secret clearance most of that time. I’ve worked on classified AF programs for about half that time, on space shuttle and unmanned JPL programs for most of the rest. I don’t think I’m a total fool.

    That said … the war’s sort of over, y’know. Is the USA going to lead the world into a wonderful rich future in which humanity expands into the solar system, and perhaps off to the stars? Or might the Chinese do this? Or the Brazilians or Indians or someone else rising to prominence near the end of the 21st century? Or should we remain planet-bound, with nothing better to look forward to than wars over resources and class struggle between the 1% and the 99% until the end of time?

    Representative Wolf and just about all the US “establishment” has embraced the last choice. And there are consequences. Why should, let’s say, some 16 year old kid today in Indonesia side with Rep Wolf? Why should, let’s say, some industrialist in Denmark in 2040 decide the far far future looks better in American hands? Why should, let’s say, some aeronautical enginnering student in Chile in 2050 decide to pursue a career in the US or Brazil? Why should some American engieering student in 2070 decide to look for an aerospace career in the US rather than in India?

    Yeah, these are long off possibilities. But I’m in my sixties, and I can recall being in my teens. The far future really does become the present in the lifetimes of living people. Nobody’s arguing anymore that “space secrets” are a vital trust that need to be protected by freedom loving capitalist democratic nations for the sake of future mankind, and that this means supporting the US without question. That game is over.

    • “Nobody’s arguing anymore that “space secrets” are a vital trust that need to be protected by freedom loving capitalist democratic nations for the sake of future mankind, and that this means supporting the US without question. That game is over.”

      I don’t know if that game is over or not. I very much doubt it is. For example, I do know that the GNC code for Morpheus and other independent landers is supposed to be confidential given its origin. And I know that other code I dealt with as long ago as 2000 is still restricted and not something anyone wants the Chinese to get. So security is still a big concern. Space technology, say…, precision atmospheric re-entry guidance, is still, at least according to my friends at JPL, a vital trust.

      I respect your aerospace background. I have a BSE and MSE in aerospace engineering. This is not about smarts. Managing national security issues, like any specialty, is about smarts, knowledge and experience. And in this area, I am woefully uninformed and inexperienced, as are you.

      So why the assumption that the members of Congress and their staffers on Wolf’s Subcommittee are not well-informed on the matters of espionage? Why the presumption that Wolf and his colleagues don’t know what they were doing when they enacted the prohibition on US – Chinese activities? We are, after all, talking about the Commerce, Science, and Justice House Committee.

      Do a Google search on the several Chinese engineers in the high tech and aerospace communities currently awaiting trial for espionage and it’s reminiscent of the efforts that the Soviets undertook during the Cold War to gain our intellectual capital in order to better compete with us.

      The US and China are competing for influence in the Pacific in general and specifically in the area of the Formosa Straights and South China Sea.

  7. Oh sure, we spy on them and they spy on us while we wangle for influence in Afghanistan, just like the British and the Russians manuevering for influence a 150 years ago … in Afghanistan. I don’t we’ll ever outgrow one of the overpowering obessions of Truly Great Imperial bureaucrats.

    That said, we are dependent upon the Chinese Hordes to build our electronic chips, we rely on the Untrustworthy Untouchables of India to do the programming and man late night computer call centers, our GNP slumps when unseasonly rains flood hard drive manufacturing plants in Malaya. Our economy hinges upon selling used cardboard and scrap steel to Unchristian Wogs who sell this stuff back to us as Barbie dolls and backyard grills, We trade them airliners and they send us solar power cells and batteries, and we worry about their currency is priced high enough against the dollar and how rapidly affluence is spreading up the reaches of the Yellow River.

    And we’re sitting here gravely pretending the Great Threat is that the Red Army is about to swarm ashore in San Diego and impose a commisaar in every US county, and that We Have To Be Prepared to do this to Them before They do it us?
    And that Space — WHICH DAMNED NEAR EVERY AMERICAN ADULT WITH THREE BRAINCELLS TO RUB TOGETHER HAS DECIDED TO WRITE OFF — is a important battlefield in that Enormous Struggle.

    C’mon, guy. Get sober.

    Sure, I think space could matter for future humanity. I think it should matter. I think it would be a horrible tragedy if future interplanetary and interstellar societies chose to emulate the Chinese rather than the American-European model. But I don’t think that American space policy in the 2010’s ought to be dominated by the Incalculable Costs of betraying Our Precious Military Secrets to the Chinese. If Representative Wolf and his colleagues really want to grasp some advantage from our superior spacefaring technology, they can always do so by funding a more ambitious space program — as far as I can see, they’d vomit to death while laughing at the notion first.

    • Fortunately, we are not yet dependent upon the Chinese for rad-hardened processors. But you do know there’s a case in the courts in California where a naturalized citizen of Chinese ethnicity smuggled a few hundred RH processors into China? Right…nothing sensitive in the space trust.

      Nobody is really worried about China attacking the continental US. But here’s what people in non-engineer land, such as members of Congress, are worried about concerning China:

      The Formosa Straits are still a hot point. Hot enough that Japan altered its foreign and defense policy in 2005 to declare that an attack on Taiwan would be considered an attack on Japan. Why did the Japanese do this? To align their regional defense and foreign policy more closely with that of the US regarding Taiwan. What’s so important about maintaining Taiwan’s status quo antebellum independence? It’s called balance of power. And Japan isn’t the only one worried about China’s push to alter the regional BOP and gain supremacy.

      Think a problem with Taiwan is remote? You do know that polls of the Chinese people overwhelmingly say that China should invade Taiwan to force that little Democratic nation back to the fold? Even if that means war with the US. And you are aware that the US has had an agreement since 1975 that commits us to Taiwan’s defense? And you are aware that during the Truman, Clinton, and Bush Administrations the US Navy was sent to the Formosa straights as a show of deterrence against China’s attempts at intimidating Taiwan?

      I won’t even bother you about the Spratley Islands issues that have gotten very hot between the Philippines and China over the last two decades. The Spratley islands belong to the Philippines. But China covets the oil and gas reserves that are likely there. The Philippines has recently requested more advanced warships than the gunboats they currently have as a way of answering China’s belligerence.

      Or consider for a moment the South China Sea, where efforts by China to intimidate through force Vietnam over another group of islands. Vietnam is now welcoming US ships in Cam Rahn harbor not out of love for America but out of fear over Chinese regional aggression. And don’t be surprised if within a decade we are supplying Vietnam’s navy with gunboats and littoral warships.

      Now let’s move a little westward to Burma, formerly a close friend of China. Burma is seeing more political reform now than in the last 80-100 years as part of a rapprochement with the US not because the Burmese gov’t suddenly has a strong desire for democracy. No, it’s because Burma is feeling threatened by Chinese efforts to claim Burmese territory that is rich in mineral resources.

      The Chinese have been working very hard to develop a non-nuclear surface missile that can take out large vessels, say…a carrier. It has invested heavily in 5th generation fighter development. China has worked hard to build-up its ICBM arsenal from a few dozen to several hundred. Overall, China’s military budget is growing at a much faster pace than what most defense experts agree is needed for China to meet what few actual military threats it faces. It’s foreign intelligence service has focused like a laser on gaining intel on the Raptor and Lightning II. The DoD recently admitted that security breeches by China have led to expensive reworks on the F-35. China is committing the resources and time in these activities for reasons known only to their leadership. But I don’t think it’s part of a jobs program.

      So, comparing the threat posed by industrial and defense espionage on US soil by the French to that of the Chinese is either a display of silliness or of naïveté. The French, really even the Russians, do not pose a military threat as sensitive as do the Chinese. And so long as any space contact with China is almost as if working with the PLA itself, as General Dempsy mentioned, we are going to have members of Congress willing to prohibit US-Chinese bilateral activities by wide margins.

      Let’s close by agreeing that Wolf and his fellow members know much, much more than either of us about the security threats posed by China because they are privy to classified briefings that none of us even know about. This isn’t about smarts, but about knowledge. They have it. It’s classified at a much higher level than either of us has seen, or ever will see. So let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. And if you’re unwilling to do that, then I don’t envy the work you face in getting caught-up to the point of being able to have a conversation with Wolf or his Subcommittee’s staffers. I do hope you know that these folks also are not fools.

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