NASA contract worker defied blacklist to export military software to China

A NASA contractor has pleaded guilty to secretly funneling military aeronautics software from the US to a banned university in China, the Department of Justice (DoJ) announced.

Jonathan Yet Wing Soong, 35, of Castro Valley, California, was in charge of approving exports from the Universities Space Research Association (USRA), a nonprofit organization contracted to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) since 2016 to license and distribute flight-control software.

Between that year and 2020, Soong worked for USRA as a program administrator, vetting overseas customers to determine which ones were banned by the Department of Commerce from receiving tech exports.

On January 17, Soong pleaded guilty at a federal court in California to knowingly violating this trust when he approved the delivery of flight-control software to Beihang University in the Chinese capital Beijing, despite it being blacklisted by the US for its involvement in the development of military rocket and unmanned aircraft systems for the People’s Republic.

“In pleading guilty, Soong admitted that he willingly exported and facilitated the sale and transfer of restricted software to Beihang University knowing that the university was on the Department of Commerce’s Entity List,” said the DoJ.

During his plea agreement, under which he remains a free man until his sentencing hearing on April 28, Soong confessed to using an intermediary to export the CIFER program to avoid revealing the true identity of the banned purchaser. He faces up to 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine.

CIFER is a tool used to analyze and design aircraft control systems by drawing on flight-test data and system identification techniques.

Soong also admitted to knowing that this software program was subject to the entity blacklist, even as in 2017 he clandestinely negotiated to provide Beihang University with it using non-blacklisted Beijing Rainbow Technical Development as a middleman to cover his tracks.

The following year, he used the same trick to supply passcodes for CIFER to Beihang, receiving payment from Rainbow.

Soong was eventually brought to justice by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), with assistance from NASA’s Office of Inspector General, the Department of Homeland Security, and US military and intelligence services.

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