CSIS Warns Space Agency Ex-Engineer Now Faces Charges: Court Documents

Canada’s spy agency sent several warnings to the Canadian Space Agency about Wanping Zheng, a former engineer now accused of negotiating on behalf of a Chinese aerospace company – and even refused to give a presentation at ASC because she knew Zheng would be there, according to new court documents.

The RCMP charged Zheng, 61, last December with breach of trust in a case that police say is related to foreign interference.

According to an affidavit used to obtain search warrants on his phone and email, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service sent three warnings to the space agency about Zheng’s “reliability status”.

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Reliability Status is a personnel security clearance within the federal government that is required before an employee can gain access to certain protected information, assets or workplaces.

CSIS’s first warning came in 2015, although at the time the agency did not provide many details about its concerns. CSIS also asked the space agency that year if Zheng had access to information relating to an anti-vibration table — intellectual property belonging to the CSA.

CSIS sent two follow-up warnings in March and May 2016.

The following year, the ASC renewed Zheng’s security clearance for two years instead of the usual 10 — an effort to monitor Zheng’s compliance with internal ASC policies, according to the documents.

A CSA spokesperson would not comment on the timing of the renewal.

“When concerns about this individual’s private activities outside of his or her job arose, CSA took action, including an internal investigation and restricted access to information,” CSA spokeswoman Andrea Matte said. .

“We cannot comment further on a case in court.”

CSIS didn’t want Zheng in the room

In September 2017, CSIS refused to make a presentation to the agency because it knew Zheng was going to attend.

The documents indicate that CSIS routinely reports anomalies or irregularities without giving specific details.

“The purpose of this procedure is to trigger an internal or police investigation without revealing or compromising their intelligence gathering techniques,” the French affidavit states.

A CSIS spokesman said he would not confirm or deny details of the investigations.

“What I can say is that CSIS routinely engages with a variety of stakeholders, including private sector, government partners and academia,” said Keira Lawson.

“Through these briefings, CSIS flags potential threats to the security and interests of Canada, and provides unclassified briefings regarding the nature of specific threats.”

Engineers test a rover at the Canadian Space Agency in Saint-Hubert, Quebec. (Laura MacNaughton/CBC)

CSIS’s refusal to provide a CSA briefing with Zheng in the room ultimately helped spark an internal investigation into Zheng in 2018.

While Zheng was working at the agency, CSA technicians noted the presence of software not authorized by a foreign company, newly filed court documents show.

At least one secure file transfer service and email application were identified on the computer, violating internal policy, according to the documents.

Zheng was informed of the CSA internal review on December 17, 2018, and went on sick leave a few days later.

The space agency went to the RCMP in September 2019 to report that it suspected Zheng of passing secret information to a third party.

Zheng resigned in December of the same year after 26 years with the agency.

While seeking a search warrant to access Zheng’s BlackBerry, police said he contacted five private companies while at CSA since 2007.

None of the allegations against Zheng have been proven in court.

The search warrant request notes that foreign states have been known to target officials with access to privileged information in order to steal intellectual property.

Last month, the federal government filed a request to shield certain details of the case from public view.

Under the Canada Evidence Act, a judge can decide whether certain details of a case should be disclosed in open court or protected for national security reasons.

According to documents filed in Federal Court, the government is concerned that “sensitive information or potentially harmful information” may be leaked during Zheng’s criminal trial.

He is due to appear in court next week.

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