(DOJ) A civilian professor at the Air War College on Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama, pleaded guilty to making false statements to a federal agent.
According to court documents, Xiaoming Zhang, 69, a naturalized citizen of Chinese descent living in Montgomery, Alabama, began working as an Air War College (AWC) professor in July 2003.
During his tenure at the AWC, Zhang would travel to China on a regular basis for work-related purposes, research and to visit family living there.
Beginning sometime in 2012, Zhang developed a relationship with a known foreign official working with the Shanghai Municipal Government.
Records indicate that Zhang met with the official in person on approximately six occasions and exchanged approximately 40 emails with him from December 2012 to January 2017.
At some point during this period, Zhang became aware that the official was using, or attempting to use, their relationship to gain access to sensitive information in Zhang’s possession, as well as to make contact with other potentially valuable individuals.
As part of his employment at the AWC, Zhang held a “secret” security clearance and attended annual security training that informed him of reporting requirements about suspicious foreign contacts and relationships with foreign government officials, along with other briefings concerning reporting requirements.
Despite all the trainings and briefings, Zhang failed to report the relationship with the foreign official even after he came to understand that the official was attempting to gather sensitive information from Zhang.
According to the factual basis contained in the plea agreement, Zhang made multiple misleading or false statements to authorities in an attempt to hide his relationship with the Chinese official.
In August of 2017, Zhang denied knowing the foreign official when questioned by U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) investigators who were verifying his continued eligibility for a security clearance.
When the FBI interviewed Zhang in July of 2020, he initially made more false statements, but eventually admitted to meeting with the official in China on numerous occasions and to being untruthful concerning that information.
Zhang also acknowledged that he had concealed the relationship with the official because he knew it was improper.
Zhang pleaded guilty to making false statements to a federal agent and faces a maximum of five years in prison at sentencing. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
Acting Assistant Attorney General Mark J. Lesko of the Justice Department’s National Security Division and Acting U.S. Attorney Sandra J. Stewart for the Middle District of Alabama made the announcement.
The FBI investigated the case, with valuable assistance provided by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the Department of the Air Force’s Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI), and the Department of Defense.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Brett Talley of the Middle District of Alabama is prosecuting the case with assistance from Trial Attorney Scott Claffee of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section.