Worker Busted for Stealing Dam Data

Monday, October 27, 2014 @ 05:10 PM gHale

A National Weather Service employee is facing an indictment on charges of illegally hacking into a restricted federal computer database controlled by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers detailing information about dams nationwide.

The indictment follows along the lines of a security breach in 2013 in which U.S. intelligence officials found an intrusion into the same database described at the time as Chinese government cyber spies.

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The Corps’ National Inventory of Dams has deep security implications because it includes detailed information on a critical part of the infrastructure that supplies hydroelectric power to the electrical grid. Additional concerns are dams could end up targeted in war time to cause large losses of life.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation said Xiafen “Sherry” Chen, 59, of Wilmington, OH, ended up indicted in U.S. District Court on one count of theft of U.S. government property, punishable by up to 10 years in prison; one count of illegally accessing a U.S. government computer database, punishable by up to five years in prison; and two counts of making false statements to federal agents, punishable by up to five years in prison. She also faces fines totaling $1 million.

FBI agents arrested her at her workplace last Monday.

Chen, described as a naturalized U.S. citizen, is a hydrologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration facility in Wilmington, OH.

The indictment said on various dates in May 2012, Chen illegally accessed restricted areas of the protected U.S. government computer database and downloaded sensitive files from the National Inventory of Dams. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in conjunction with the National Dam Safety Review Board maintains and controls the database.

The indictment also said on June 11, 2013, Chen provided “materially false statements to officials from the Department of Commerce Office of Security assigned to investigate her activities.”

U.S. Attorney Carter Stewart commended the FBI and the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Office of Security, which are jointly investigating this case.

The National Inventory of Dams includes information on the location, size, purpose, type, date of last inspection, and regulatory and technical data of dams, according to the Army Corps of Engineers.

The federal agency updates the information every two years. The 2013 update included information on more than 87,300 dams, including 14,726 classified as “high hazard potential,” where failure or mis-operation could cause loss of human life, the federal agency said.

Another 12,406 dams ended up labeled as “significant hazard potential,” where failure or mis-operation could cause economic losses. About 65 percent of the dams in the United States have private ownership.

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