Air Force Professor Admits Lying About Relationship With Chinese Official

( On Monday Zhang Xiaoming, a civilian professor at the Air War College on Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama pleaded guilty to hiding his connection to a Chinese official who used Zhang’s ties to the college to gain access to sensitive information.

The Justice Department announced Zhang’s guilty plea on charges of making false statements to federal agents.

Zhang, 69, a naturalized American from China, began teaching at the Air War College in 2003. According to the DOJ, Zhang regularly traveled to China both for work and research purposes, as well as to visit family.

According to the DOJ, sometime in 2012 Zhang developed a relationship with a known official of the Shanghai Municipal Government. And over a four-year period, from December of 2012 to January of 2017, Zhang personally met with this official on six occasions and exchanged about forty emails.

Zhang became aware that the official was trying to use their relationship to gain access to sensitive information in his possession and wanted Zhang to act as an intermediary to establish contacts with other potentially valuable individuals.

As a professor at the Air War College, Zhang held a “secret” security clearance. He was required to attend annual security training in which, among other things, he was reminded to report suspicious foreign contacts and relationships with foreign government officials.

Despite this regular training, Zhang did not disclose his relationship with the Chinese official — even after he realized what the official was trying to do.

When questioned in August 2017 by investigators from the US Office of Personnel and Management, who were verifying his continued eligibility for a security clearance, Zhang specifically denied knowing the Chinese official.

The DOJ said Zhang continued to make false statements to investigators in July 2020 before he eventually admitted to his ongoing relationship with the official. Zhang claimed that he concealed the relationship because he knew that it was improper.

With his plea agreement, Zhang faces a maximum of up to five years in prison for making false statements to federal agents. Sentencing has not yet been scheduled in his case.