A former professor of Air War College has admitted to being guilty of making false statements to a federal agent about his contact with an official from China. The professor, a 69-year-old man named Xiaoming Zhang, is a naturalized American citizen of Chinese descent and began working at the Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama, in July 2003.
Apart from visiting family, Zhang would travel to China regularly for research and other work-related purposes. According to the Justice Department, sometime in 2012, Zhang became acquainted and developed a relationship with an official working for the Shanghai Municipal Government. Zhang and the Chinese official met in person at least six times. Between Dec. 2012 and Jan. 2017, they exchanged more than three dozen emails.
During the course of their relationship, Zhang came to realize that the official was using him to gain access to confidential information in his possession. The Chinese official also wanted to establish contacts with other individuals through him.
At Air War College, Zhang had undergone regular training sessions about protecting sensitive information. He was also informed to report on any suspicious contacts with foreign government officials.
However, Zhang failed to report the meetings to the Air War College. According to his plea agreement, Zhang also attempted to conceal the relationship he had with the Chinese official, even making multiple false and misleading statements to the authorities.
In August 2017 when Zhang was questioned by U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) investigators as part of the process of verifying his eligibility for a security clearance at Air War College, he denied knowing the official in question.
Zhang again tried to cover his tracks by making inaccurate statements to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in July 2020. He eventually admitted to meeting with the official in China on several occasions. Zhang also confessed to having kept the relationship under wraps because he knew it was improper.
So far, Zhang has not been accused of leaking any secrets but only covering up the details of his face-to-face meetings and emails with the Chinese official. Zhang now faces a maximum of five years in prison. After considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other judicial factors, a federal district court judge will determine the sentence.
As per his plea agreement, Zhang will be required to resign from all positions connected to the U.S. government and contractors. He must also consent to never again seek any job with the government.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Brett Talley of the Middle District of Alabama with support from Trial Attorney Scott Claffee of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section.