back to article Suspected Chinese NASA spy smuggled smut not state secrets

After a dramatic airport arrest by the FBI, which had been tipped off by a Republican congressman, the data concealed by a former NASA scientist with a one-way ticket to China has been revealed as pirated porn, not the secrets to the next interstellar drive. In March Dr. Bo Jiang, 31, a former employee of the National …


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  1. NoneSuch Silver badge

    Last line

    "one wonders if yet another mistake has been made that will cost the US in the long run."

    America is shooting itself in the foot so often lately that you have to wonder just what sort of idiocy is around the corner.

    1. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: Last line

      You haven't seen the movie "Idiocracy"?

      GO AWAY! I'M 'BATIN!"

      1. asdf

        Re: Last line

        Doctor: [laughs] Right, kick ass. Well, don't want to sound like a dick or nothin', but, ah... it says on your chart that you're fucked up. Ah, you talk like a fag, and your shit's all retarded. What I'd do, is just like... like... you know, like, you know what I mean, like...

        Doctor: Don't worry, scrote. There are plenty of 'tards out there living really kick-ass lives. My first wife was 'tarded. She's a pilot now.

        1. Andrew Moore

          Re: Last line

          "Water? Like from the toilets?"

  2. Woger

    I'm at a US University and there is a huge population of researchers from China. Engineering is a challenging subject for a someone who has come through US schooling and if Congress bans Chinese nationals from NASA then there won't be any more rockets.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Chinese rockets

      Don't worry if you kick out all the Chinese there are still lots of Russian physics grad students.

      Failing that - you can kidnap a few Nazi's

      1. Colin Wilson 2

        Re: Chinese rockets

        >> Failing that - you can kidnap a few Nazi's

        Is that ein Großer Apostrophe?? !

        1. Steven Roper

          Re: Chinese rockets

          Doesn't look like a bigger apostrophe to me, looks pretty normal-sized actually.

          Das ist ein Lebensmittelladen Apostroph, obwohl.

        2. A Man From Bras

          Re: Chinese rockets @Colin Wilson 2

          Oh. Well played, sir!

    2. Steve Brooks

      No, plenty of rockets, you don't really thing that Elon Musk and Burt Rutan only hired American brains, it's NASA job to pull all the dead wood in and leave the brains for private firms.

  3. Sel


    Large quantities of images are perfect for hiding source code in the low bits.

    Porn gives a plausible excuse for concealing the media.

    How can they know that there is no encrypted source code in those image files?

    1. asdf

      Re: Steno-pornography?

      >How can they know that there is no encrypted source code in those image files?

      Probably because based on the absolutely pathetic state of network security in government the Chinese long ago pilfered the code.

      1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

        Re: Steno-pornography?

        "Probably because based on the absolutely pathetic state of network security in government the Chinese long ago pilfered the code."

        Also true.

        1. John H Woods Silver badge

          Re: Steno-pornography?

          What is this? Some kind of one-handed shorthand? Or are we talking about SteGAno-pornography?

    2. Sapper

      Re: Steno-pornography?

      That's exactly what I was thinking. And I don't have enough faith in the FBI to assume that they considered that possibility.

      1. BillG

        Re: Steno-pornography?

        I was thinking the same thing - the classified info can be encrypted into the porn. The thing is, that type of encryption is like a book code, it's totally undetectable unless you have the key.

        Alternately the guy was tipped off and he swapped the real data for porn.

    3. Captain DaFt

      Re: Steno-pornography?

      "How can they know that there is no encrypted source code in those image files?"

      Because they most likely looked? More than once?

      Remember, this was a case trumpeted from the rooftops and a pet case of a congressman. Don't bet that they didn't go over everything with a fine toothed comb, trying to find anything, anything at all that wouldn't leave them looking like a bunch of chumps.

      Shows how squeaky clean he was that the best face saving move they could make was huff, "Well, since you were leaving anyway, Get out and stay out!"

    4. Paul Crawford Silver badge

      Re: Steno-pornography?

      Probably by getting original copies of said pr0n and comparing them bit-by-bit. Also probably by watching them very carefully, over and over again, just in case there was some subtle political or technological message in "Big Girl Needs Big Dildo".

      But who says he was not on the make, given the Great Firewall and China's anti-pr0n laws, maybe his stash of gentleman's entertainment was part of a pension plan?

    5. John Smith 19 Gold badge

      Re: Steno-pornography?

      "How can they know that there is no encrypted source code in those image files?"

      True. It is difficult to prove a negative (but I'd suggest the originals for all of his collection can be found and a comparison run. The match should be perfect.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Steno-pornography?

        '..but I'd suggest the originals for all of his collection can be found and a comparison run. The match should be perfect.'

        From the story

        '..the data concealed by a former NASA scientist with a one-way ticket to China has been revealed as pirated porn'

        There's the problem, pirated.

        Assuming he's copied original DVDs, you'd then have to track down the original porn, then, for this comparison, run them through all available/possible converters to generate copies with whatever identified codec/bitrate the files that are on his system have.

        Assuming the usual torrent stuff, then yes, a direct bit by bit comparison is possible, but..

        Assuming I was in the business of hiding things by steganography (e.g. a spy), and knew there was an outside chance I might be caught, I'd have the files renamed (e.g. omgcutekittensreally01.avi, omgmorecutekittens02.avi etc.) and then claim that they've been renamed 'to hide my shame' and transcoded to 'save disk space' from vague files 'downloaded off the internet but now deleted so I cant remember what the originals were called'.

        So, you'd then have to perform the same transcoding on the originals, having first trawled the interwebs for said Porn originals and then identifying which local files are the equivalent of the internet ones (e.g. omgcutekittensreally01.avi == reallyhotslutsinpikachucostumes.avi)...

        That's an awful lot of Porn to watch and transcode..still, they could 'crowdsource' the job to the 4chan mob..get it done in jig time, umm, 'single handedly' as it were...

    6. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Steno-pornography?

      Wouldn't you get video corruption/artifacts if you tried to insert a SIZABLE amount of data into a video stream?

      I guess that if you were careful, you could insert a bit of data here and there, but isn't the whole point of video and audio compression techniques to NOT have any useless data lying about?

      For example, you could put some data getting put into each frame on the bottom right corner. Or say same thing, but each 10th frame only. But how much will you be able to put it before it becomes blindingly obvious?

      I am not knocking steganography, but I would bet that it is best used on low volume, pre-arranged code phrase type messaging. Not pages and pages of NASA Powerpoints.

      Surely some sharp-eyed G-men would surely have caught it while while examining the evidence in ahem... great detail.

    7. HW de Haan

      Re: Steno-pornography?

      Why would someone physically haul such a load through customs with all risks that come with it, when he could have just as easily set up a shell acount at some anomymous hosting provider and seed a few torrent files from there.

  4. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    Well he was right

    Senator Wolf 's press release (before the discovery) said:

    "I am particularly concerned that (the) information (on Jiang's laptop) may pertain to the source code for high-tech imaging technology that Jiang has been working on with NASA. This information could have significant military applications for the Chinese Peoples Liberation Army."

    Assuming a digital camera is a high-tech imaging device and Chinese squadies like jazz mags then he was technically correct.

    1. MrXavia

      Re: Well he was right

      Because he'd have just walked into a starbucks, opened up a VPN home and uploaded the data somewhere... why bother with carrying it....

      its only source code after all!

      1. asdf

        Re: Well he was right

        >its only source code after all!

        Lol and in fact it would still take a government even with nearly endless resources longer to figure out the spaghetti garbage my company calls source than to write it themselves. The ultimate way to secure source code. Make sure nobody can understand it.

        1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

          Re: Well he was right

          "Lol and in fact it would still take a government even with nearly endless resources longer to figure out the spaghetti garbage my company calls source than to write it themselves. The ultimate way to secure source code. Make sure nobody can understand it."

          You program in M ?

        2. Yag

          The ultimate way to secure source code

          Corollary : The ultimate way to secure job.

  5. gnufrontier

    Old school

    Why bother carrying anything out? Just bring some spyware in. Given recent revelations regarding trojan programs sitting for years on computers having sensitive information, the idea of someone actually hand carrying information out is at best nostalgic.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Don't give them ideas.

      Seeing how pr0nz are involved, the Good Republican Congressman's arterial tension must already gone dangerously close to levels afflicting red-faced prussian schoolmasters.

      "but this was dismissed on the proviso that he leave the country within 48 hours"

      "Leave town. Tonight. Now. And when you are gone, you stay gone. Or you be gone."

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "Seeing how pr0nz are involved, the Good Republican Congressman's arterial tension must already gone dangerously close to levels afflicting red-faced prussian schoolmasters."

        It always puzzles me that many Republicans, and many British Tories, espouse libertarian policies when it comes to accumulating their own money - yet seem to feel that they have a moral right to proscribe other people's lives*.

        * particularly concerning sex, governance, or science

  7. Johan Bastiaansen
    Thumb Up

    it's not brain surgery is it?

    Without all them damn foreigners, the US rockets would still be tipping over on the launchpad.

    En the moon would be colonised by the USSR by now.

  8. Magani

    MAFIAA fail?

    If his bags contained "...nothing more than pirated films...", how come he's not under lock and key as a threat to the Western world's economy as the RIAA and pals would have us think?

    1. Rampant Spaniel

      I thought piracy made you a terrorist? Shouldn't he be off to the CIA's holiday camp in Cuba?

    2. Adam 1

      Re: MAFIAA fail?

      That sort of theft would be at least $8 billion by my copyright math.

  9. WatAWorld

    As if you would carry out by hand what you could encrypt and transmit so easily

    The congressman and FBI were played for fools. As if you would carry out by hand what you could encrypt and transmit so easily.

    The fact remains that NASA broke the rules hiring a foreign national from a non-allied nation for a classified project. And it is doing that then data is being stolen.

    Israel is certainly not the only country that spies on the USA.

  10. just_me


    The nom-de-plum "Captain DaFt".. more appropriately "Captain Daft".

    Even if the FBI/CIA/NSA looked.. they could not detect the steganographic data. That is because the data being hidden is encrypted FIRST before being hidden in the low order bits of the image data/video frames. Encrypting data causes the data to look completely random (if using good encryption). If the FBI doesn't have the key, they can't see the data and it looks like low order bit noise in imagery data that normally has low order bit noise. Being nearly 'white noise' in characteristic after encryption, statistical analysis may fail. (though the FBI might take the approach of comparing the porn to the noise behavior of commercial encoding systems for video/jpgs, which may NOT be white in their behavior - maybe more like pink noise. This could mean that the existence of 'white' noise in the low order bits might flag that steganography was being employed to hide something.)

    1. Captain DaFt

      Re: Steganography

      Or, they could just compare his digital copies to the originals he copied, the "white noise" would stand out like a sore thumb, and while decrypting it (or even proving it *was* encrypted data would be problematic, just it's existence would flag an "AHA! We were right all along!" reaction.

    2. jonathanb Silver badge

      Re: Steganography

      You could compare it to thepiratebay copy of the film in question. If he was using thepiratebay to distribute the secret, then he wouldn't need to physically carry it home, but I guess he is physically carrying pirate bay material because the Chinese government are better at blocking it than the American government.

  11. ChasL
    Thumb Up

    Kudos America

    We should congratulate Rep. Frank Wolf for his outstanding effort in stopping the illegal exportation of America's most prized cultural posessions - porn.

    1. Rampant Spaniel

      Wouldn't this have counted as a NGOesque cultural outreach project to westernise all the poor communists (so poor we owe them trillions).

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        On a trip to China 20 years ago it was surprising to see how much pr0n was being openly sold on bookstalls. It seemed only second to their love of gambling.

        1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

          " It seemed only second to their love of gambling."

          And man do the Chinese love gambling.

          1. Rampant Spaniel

            No kidding! My first degree was software engineering and we had a lot of Chinese students on the course on visa's. Really seriously smart at coding. Unfortunately their experience of university in the UK went along the lines of.

            1- Start your course and the university gives you a new name, usually 'Tim'.

            2- Lose all your money playing mahjongg with your classmates.

            3- Get a job at a restaurant, then lose all your wages playing mahjongg with your coworkers.

            4- Go home after the first \ second semester.

            It was seriously sad to see so much potential get pissed up the wall. Admittedly not everyone went that path but the majority did. To be fair for the English cohort it was alcohol, drugs and general partying that sent them home.

  12. A Man From Bras

    After his visa expired he booked a one-way ticket home

    or, as El Reg breathlessly put it when this story originally broke:

    "...The Feds pounced after learning he apparently “was leaving the United States abruptly to return to China on a one-way ticket”..."


    This followed by the obligatory avalanche of commentards pointing out that "... LOL!!! ROFL!!! China is teh stupid LOL!!! Idiot Spy Man should buy return ticket. Not so suspicious. LOL!!!..."

    See how easy it is to be manipulated? Remember that, when you read the next a-whoopin' and a-hollerin' news report about the next bogeyman.

    1. chris lively

      Re: After his visa expired he booked a one-way ticket home


      The first story left out the part about his visa expiring. Of course it would be a one way ticket and hence completely benign.

      This more than anything is why I don't put much stock into news stories. They are always missing critical information. I wish there were real news people out there. The kind that grab a story and run down all the angles. If they did this with any regularity I'd be okay with follow on commentary. However they don't. They grab a couple bits of info, come up with some outlandish theory then proceed to destroy people's lives without any thought or concern for the impact.

      What I want is simple: depth. Not parroting whatever happens to be floating on the AP wire, that is meaningless. No, I want a news person to actually ask questions and NOT PUBLISH until they have enough facts to support it. News agencies have lost all credibility and won't be able to regain it until they start publishing their source/supporting material. We should hold them to the same ( or better ) standards as a peer reviewed journal instead of just accepting they have as much credibility as a grocery store tabloid with a picture of yet another Martian baby with 3 heads being born.

      This guy was ruined for having nothing more than what numerous college kids have on their laptops: pirated porn, music and/or movies. Complete FAIL for NASA, FBI,congress and the reporting media. Any fallout from this serves US right.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    porn or no porn

    we will never know for sure, if it was porn, or something else, and what deals, off-camera might have been made about his one-way departure. USA need Chinese support in a few issues, rather urgently now, so.... we'll never know what really happened. And now, I'm not a conspiracy theorist, or practician, I'm just saying... various scenarios are possible, regardless of what they say publicly.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    When something incriminating in a police/press/politician's statement looks like stupid behaviour of the accused - then look for wishful spin.

    IIRC several UK high profile raids on "terrorists" ended with no terrorist activities being found. However the final Police reports often emphasised that the people had committed other offences - including "kiddie pr0n". These offences usually turned out to be minor - and the latter just one unprosecutable thumbnail in a cache. The sort of thing that a trawl of a random sample of the UK population might turn up.

    Too often after an arrest the Police announce that "there was insufficient evidence for a charge" - instead of "no evidence was found to support the Police's allegations". The more innocent one is - the more "soft intelligence" classes one as a very clever criminal. Honi soit qui mal y pense.

    1. Suricou Raven

      It's very awkward for the police to accuse someone only to find they made a mistake. In the UK, and even more so in the US where the position of prosecutor is very political. So they go on a trawl - and handily enough, there are enough laws that everyone must have broken at least a few of them.

  15. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    Americans may also like to "thank" ol'Wolfie for cutting the 3rd CCiCAP award in half

    After all just because a composite, human rated lifting body is the most advanced human rated spacecraft currently being designed in the US at the present time why bother spending money on it when Spacex and Boeing are building capsules like the Russians.

    Once again Sen Wolfe has demonstrated what a friend to NASA he is.

    And with friends like that....

  16. FutureShock999

    REPUGS: the party of anti-science...

    REPUGS, the party that backs Creationism to the hilt, discourages critical thinking and intellectualism (except "trickle down" economics theories), scientific birth control, etc., and then gets it's panties in a bunch that NASA has to hire foreign nationals to actually get any work done.

    Fuck em all, really...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: REPUGS: the party of anti-science...

      No, don't, half of them are female and the last thing we need is to have them breeding.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The USA wins again

    Just when you think we (the UK) have some real idiots in positions of power, the USA just shows how much better they are at having the best government money can buy.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Six months from now...

    ...they'll probably find that the "smut code" actually has top secrets embedded in it and the smut is just a ruse to cover his real intent at industrial espionage.

  19. WereWoof

    Sauce code?

    It does contain sauce code - for making man mayonnaise.

  20. Not That Andrew

    I'm reminded of another Chinese born rocket scientist, Qian Xuesen, who co-founded the JPL. He was unfairly scapegoated during the Red Scare of the 50's, spent years under house arrest was and driven into exile. He went on to head the Chinese rocket program, designing the Dongfeng missile and Long March rocket. America lost a great talent due to prejudice and stupidity.

    1. The Infamous Grouse

      Yes, I was reminded of him too. By the last five paragraphs of the article.

      1. Not That Andrew

        Oops. That's what happens whe you skim an article.

  21. Anonymous Coward

    Smuggling porn into China

    Don't they have an internet?

    Oh, right. I forgot.

  22. hEdly

    The secretes are in the photos

    I hope they really looked at those photos. There are simple programs that will take data and hide them in jpegs. Why else would he have a one-way ticket?

  23. Joe Gurman

    If the contract was for $100K....

    .... that generally means in the US, which has no national health, that his salary would have been ~ $60K - $65K, and the rest was benefits (health insurance, life insurance, vacation time, and employer's retirement contribution) and overhead for his nominal employer ("Beltway bandit") for an "on-site" contract employee, that is, one who works in a government building.

  24. Mika Peltokorpi

    Lost change?

    ""I remain concerned that neither the prosecutors nor NASA have addressed the original question of why a NASA laptop was inappropriately provided to a restricted foreign national associated with 'an entity of concern' and why he was allowed to take the laptop and all of its information back to China last December," Wolf told Bloomberg."

    Me too; there is plenty of ways to camouflage the data. E.g. by using image files as piggybag for the payload, that is scrambled and watermarked on those.

  25. Donald Becker

    Porn is a poor fallback from spying

    I notice that the "stolen laptop" side of the story isn't mentioned either.

    It's likely that the laptop was purchased by the company for his use and got a NASA property tracking tag to make it easy to carry in daily. Otherwise he would need a form every time he took it out, stating who owned it and why it was being removed.

    When he was terminated, the laptop was worth less than the cost to clean it, test it and reload software. If he had been fired, the company might want it back on principle. But since he was terminated because of political pressure, the company probably told him to just keep it.

    Once the laptop was his, he had a few weeks with nothing to do and a high bandwidth connection. Even if it's not that difficult to bypass the Great Firewall, it's still easier and faster to gather your collection in U.S. Or perhaps it really a very modest collection, or just an incidental one. One where the FBI could quickly compare it to the original source material and start backing away from their blunder.

    I'm surprised they didn't get him to plead guilty to an additional charge of jaywalking.

  26. Florida1920

    The pron was a smokescreen. His 11-year-old accomplice boarded the flight with a few terabytes of top-secret-codeword NASA intel. Like where they left those Hasselblads on the moon.

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