In September of 2019, Defendants Ye Sang Wang, and her husband Shaohua Wang, were charged in federal court, Southern District of California with Conspiracy to Export Defense Articles without a license and to an embargoed country (People’s Republic of China), Money Laundering and Criminal Forfeiture.

Both Ye Sang Wang and her husband are naturalized citizens, originally from China. Ye Sang Wang enlisted in the US Navy in 2005 but under the enlistment program at the time, was allowed to do so even though she did not become a citizen until 2007. From 2015 to 2019 Ye Sang Wang was a Logistics Specialist First Class stationed at the Naval Special Warfare Command in San Diego.

In essence, it is alleged that Ye Sang Wang used her position to gain materials and equipment, which in turn she and her husband sold to individuals in China. These included such things as a ballistic helmet with accessories, controlled communication systems that identified US personnel in the field, and gas masks. On at least two occasions in the initial complaint, it is alleged that Ye Sang Wang used her military email to conduct or attempt to conduct transactions similar to the above.

Wang Attempts to Gain Top Secret Clearance Without Needing It

In April of 2017, a member of the Special Reconnaissance Team she worked with became suspicious of Ye Sang Wang’s attempt to gain a Top Secret security clearance without the need for one and had traveled to the People’s Republic of China. The Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) investigated the matter but closed it without action. In March of 2018, a Special Security Officer from her unit contacted a Counter Intelligence Support Officer (CISO) when he became suspicious of her more recent attempts to gain a Top Secret clearance.  This prompted the CISO to search her email to investigate her behavior.

DoD Privacy Consent Agreements Signed

The defendant, Ye Sang Wang, had signed the standard DoD privacy consent user agreement when she was allowed access to the network. It said in part:

You consent to the following conditions:

    1. The U.S. Government routinely intercepts and monitors communications on this information system for purposes including, but not limited to, penetration testing, communications security (COMSEC) monitoring, network operations and defense, personnel misconduct (PM), law enforcement (LE), and counterintelligence (CI) investigations.
    2. At any time, the U.S. Government may inspect and seize data stored on this information system.
    3. Communications using, or data stored on, this information system are not private, are subject to routine monitoring, interception, and search, and may be disclosed or used for any U.S. Government authorized purpose.
    4. The security measures –such as the access card and PIN number for the computer- are installed to protect U.S. Government interests not for your personal benefit or privacy 

In addition to that, the user received the regular banner reminders of the policy that those of us who worked in DoD have grown so accustomed to.

Consent Agreements Bypass Fourth Amendment Rights

As one may predict, when investigators searched Ye Sang Wang’s computer, the emails providing evidence for the charges in the complaint were discovered. Ye Sang Wang’s defense attorney subsequently filed a motion to suppress the email evidence because the search violated the Fourth Amendment in that it was unreasonable as it invaded the defendant’s legitimate right of privacy. The trial court rejected the arguments based on several factors:

  1. A password or PIN protected computer access can demonstrate an expectation of privacy, however in this case, it clearly states in the agreement those security measures are put in place to protect government interests;
  2. The defendant was warned extensively with the regular banners on her screen reminding her of the user agreement and monitoring subjections;
  3. While some communication on emails can be considered privileged and not searchable her correspondence to her husband did not fall into that category because marital privilege does apply when both parties are engaged in joint criminal behavior and she did nothing to identify the communication as privileged in the email;
  4. Finally, the investigators had reasonable suspicion based on Ye Sang Wang’s behavior to search her computer as she had a security clearance and access to sensitive data. Even though the items found were not what the investigator initially was looking for, evidence of criminal activity was discovered permissibly.

As a side note, Ye Sang Wang’s husband Shaohua Wang has pled guilty in part to the charges. Ye Sang Wang’s trial is scheduled to take place this year.

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Joe Jabara, JD, is the Director, of the Hub, For Cyber Education and Awareness, Wichita State University. He also serves as an adjunct faculty at two other universities teaching Intelligence and Cyber Law. Prior to his current job, he served 30 years in the Air Force, Air Force Reserve, and Kansas Air National Guard. His last ten years were spent in command/leadership positions, the bulk of which were at the 184th Intelligence Wing as Vice Commander.