SpaceX Russian Starlink Report Stokes Sen. Warren


U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) wrote to the Department of Defense (DoD), following a "deeply troubling" Wall Street Journal investigation revealing that Starlink, a satellite-internet service and subsidiary of DoD contractor SpaceX, is being used by Russia and other sanctioned U.S. adversaries, and concerns that the company has not taken appropriate action to stop this illicit activity.

Senator Warren is calling on the DoD to ensure that DoD contractors are held accountable for any expropriation of their technology by hostile actors. 

Last month, the Wall Street Journal’s investigation revealed that black market middlemen are buying Starlink user terminals and smuggling them to U.S. adversaries around the world, including Russian forces in Ukraine. 

“SpaceX must make every attempt to ensure its Starlink devices and service are obtained and operated in full compliance with US law – but reports suggest it may not be doing so effectively,” Senator Warren wrote

The expropriation of Starlink services has drastically reduced the strategic advantage it has provided to Ukraine during the war, after their hardwired internet and telephone access was destroyed, degrading its capacity to defend itself.

The letter notes, "for years, Russia had operated with a 'communications system unsuited for modern warfare.' By using Starlink as a communication tool, the Russian military mitigated one of its key weaknesses in its invasion of Ukraine.

"Reports from February 2024 indicate that Starlink has been aware of hostile actors circumventing U.S. sanctions to acquire its terminals, and that U.S. officials are “working with Ukraine and…with Starlink,” to address this misuse, but the status of these efforts is unclear.

The letter notes "in addition to the use of black market Starlink terminals in Ukraine, reports have surfaced of the devices being smuggled into Iran, Yemen, and Sudan where the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a group accused of war crimes by the United States, has acquired them."

"DoD officials also appear to be throwing up their hands when it comes to reining in the national security threat posed by the sale and use of Starlink devices on the black market," the letter asserts.  "Earlier this month, DoD Assistant Secretary for Space Policy John Plumb, said that. “I don't think that DOD is in a position to make them [SpaceX] do these things, so I'll just say that…[its] something we just have to bake in and understand."

"These are troubling comments: DoD officials must not shirk from addressing these national security risks," the Senator writes.

Senator Warren requests answers from DoD on their contractor relationship with and oversight power over SpaceX by June 5, 2024. 

"The US has been “heavily involved in working with the government of Ukraine and SpaceX to counter Russian illicit use of Starlink terminals,” John Plumb, the outgoing assistant secretary for space policy, told Bloomberg last week.


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