NASA is refusing to release records of any investigations into their astronauts.
The secrecy of the U.S. space agency has reemerged as an issue after the international news coverage of a possible crime committed on the International Space Station by Astronaut Anne McClain. McClain was accused of hacking her wife’s banking information during a nasty custody fight.
Dolcefino Consulting requested five years of completed investigative reports in a formal request under the Freedom of Information Act.
The NASA Office of Inspector General says in their mission statement that they, “independently report to the Administrator, Congress, and the public,” and that the Office of Investigations, “investigates allegations of crime, cyber-crime, fraud, abuse or misconduct having an impact on NASA programs, personnel and resources.”
In a letter dated November 8, 2019, James Ives, Assistant Inspector General for Investigations denied our request for any completed investigations to protect the “privacy interest of third parties.”
“This agency is given tens of billions of dollars from taxpayers every year and that makes them accountable to the public, period,” says Wayne Dolcefino, President of Dolcefino Consulting. “The OIG’s job is not to protect NASA from scandal, but to protect the public.”
NASA has not been immune from scandal. In 2007, Astronaut Lisa Nowak was arrested in Florida and charged with attempted kidnapping, burglary with assault and battery.
The fight between Summer Worden and Astronaut Anne McClain became national news this year. McClain dropped her attempt to gain rights for a child that was born before the couple met, but Judge Dunson has refused to sign the order ending the dispute.
It has been more than a month since Judge Dunson got a simple order to sign and she has refused. “We think the judge is abusing the power of her office to punish Summer for speaking out about decisions in that court,” says Dolcefino. “Summer is having to fight courthouse retaliation and NASA secrecy at the same time and that is outrageous for this mother.”
The OIG has failed to disclose the status of the McClain investigation. The media has described the allegations against her as the first possible crime in space.
“If the OIG tries to hide the results of its work, we may be forced to go to federal court to let the sunshine in,” says Dolcefino.
NASA is investigating a claim that an astronaut accessed the bank account of her estranged spouse from the International Space Station (ISS), in what may be the first allegation of a crime committed in space.
The New York Times reports that Anne McClain acknowledges accessing the account from the ISS but denies any wrongdoing.
Her estranged spouse, Summer Worden, reportedly filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.
Anne McClain has since returned to Earth.
She told the New York Times through a lawyer that she was merely making sure that the family’s finances were in order and there was enough money to pay bills and care for Summer Worden’s son – who they had been raising together prior to the split.
Her lawyer, Rusty Hardin, said: “She strenuously denies that she did anything improper,” adding that Ms McClain was “totally co-operating”.
Anne McClain and Summer Worden, who is an Air Force intelligence officer, married in 2014 and Worden filed for divorce in 2018.
Investigators from NASA’s Office of Inspector General have contacted both over the allegation, the New York Times reported.
Anne McClain graduated from the prestigious West Point military academy and flew more than 800 combat hours over Iraq as an Army pilot. She went on to qualify as a test pilot and was chosen to fly for NASA in 2013.
The astronaut spent six months aboard the ISS and had been due to feature in the first all-female spacewalk, but her role was canceled at the last minute over what NASA said was a problem with availability of correct suit sizes.
There are five national or international space agencies involved in the ISS – from the US, Canada, Japan, Russia and several European countries – and a legal framework sets out that national law applies to any people and possessions in space.
So, if a Canadian national were to commit a crime in space, they would be subject to Canadian law, and a Russian citizen to Russian law.
Space law also sets out provisions for extradition back on Earth, should a nation decide it wishes to prosecute a citizen of another nation for misconduct in space.
As space tourism becomes a reality, so might the need to prosecute space crime, but for now the legal framework remains untested.
NASA officials told the New York Times that they were not aware of any crimes committed on the space station.