House Democrats Press Musk’s SpaceX On Claims Russian Forces Have Starlink Systems

Authored by Ryan Morgan via The Epoch Times (emphasis ours),

House Democrats are pressing SpaceX and its CEO, Elon Musk, for answers on allegations coming from Ukrainian intelligence officials that Russian forces are using SpaceX’s Starlink satellite internet service in their ongoing war with Ukraine.

The antenna of the Starlink satellite-based broadband system is seen in the snow in Bakhmut, Ukraine, on Feb. 16, 2023. (Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP via Getty Images)

On Wednesday, March 6, House Oversight Committee Ranking Member Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) and Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) sent a letter to SpaceX Chief Operating Officer Gwynne Shotwell, calling for her to address how Russian forces may have obtained SpaceX terminals.

Starlink terminals connect to SpaceX’s constellation of thousands of satellites operating in low Earth orbit. SpaceX began supplying thousands of Starlink terminals to Ukraine after Russian invasion forces entered the country in February 2022, helping keep Ukraine online even as Russian attacks degraded their existing telecommunications and internet infrastructure.

Ukraine’s Main Directorate of Intelligence (GUR) first raised concerns about Russian forces using the Starlink service on Feb. 11. GUR spokesman Andriy Yusov stated at the time that Ukrainian intelligence officials had intercepted radio transmissions in which Russian soldiers described widespread use of the satellite internet service around the contested Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine.

This is starting to become systemic,” Mr. Yusov said of Russia’s alleged use of the Starlink service.

Mr. Musk has denied the allegations, stating, “To the best of our knowledge, no Starlinks have been sold directly or indirectly to Russia.”

But Mr. Raskin and Mr. Garcia are continuing to press the question. The two lawmakers noted a report last month by the U.S. Department of Commerce, which said “Russia routinely relies on evasive or deceptive tactics such as the use of third-party intermediaries or transshipment points” to evade U.S. export controls against the country.

The two lawmakers noted Mr. Musk’s denial, but reiterated Mr. Yusov’s characterization of Russia’s Starlink usage as “systemic.”

“We are concerned that you may not have appropriate guardrails and policies in place to ensure your technology is neither acquired directly or indirectly, nor used illegally by Russia,” their letter to Ms. Shotwell reads.

The Democrats called on SpaceX to reveal how many reports or complaints it has received alleging Russian use of the Starlink service, as well as how many of those complaints the company investigated. The lawmakers also pressed SpaceX to explain its review process for such complaints, detail its safeguards against illicit acquisitions of Starlink terminals, what measures SpaceX advises to take when it determines an actor has illicitly acquired a Starlink terminal, and what work SpaceX has taken on its own and with the U.S. federal government to prevent such illicit acquisition and use of Starlink services. The lawmakers called on Ms. Shotwell to provide SpaceX’s response by March 20.

How Russia May Have Obtained Starlink Terminals

Not cited in the Democrats’ March 6 letter is a Feb. 13 blog post in which Ukraine’s GUR service posits intermediaries in Arab countries may be facilitating the transfers of Starlink terminals to Russian forces. That blog post describes an audio recording in which a Russian “occupier” is quoted as saying “the Arabs bring everything: wires, Wi-Fi, router… .” According to the GUR blog post, this same Russian individual reportedly went on to say the cost to obtain a Starlink device is 200,000 Russian Rubles (about $2,200).

While the GUR shared an audio recording in their Feb. 11 blog post, they did not provide the audio recording described in the Feb. 13 blog post, which might provide further clarity about how Starlink terminals may be ending up in Russian hands.

NTD News reached out to Mr. Raskin and Mr. Garcia’s offices, seeking more details about what evidence is guiding their SpaceX probe. Neither lawmaker’s office responded by press time.

More than two years on, the war between Russia and Ukraine has seen territory repeatedly change hands. Defense materials, from combat vehicles to weapons systems and items like Starlink terminals, may also see changes in ownership throughout the course of the fighting.

Among NTD News’ list of questions for Mr. Garcia was whether he and Mr. Raskin had ruled out the possibility that Russian forces had acquired Starlink terminals from defeated Ukrainian troops.

NTD News also reached out to SpaceX for comment about the possibility of Starlink terminals being captured on the battlefield, as well as evidence it may have of illicit transfers of these terminals through intermediaries. Likewise, SpaceX did not respond by press time.


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