US ‘closely monitoring’ national security threat from Russian anti-satellite weapon

White House says the Russian anti-satellite weapon is not currently active and cannot be used against on anything earth-bound

Andrew Feinberg
Thursday 15 February 2024 20:44 GMT
Russia’s nuclear capabilities in space draw US concerns

The United States is “closely monitoring” Russian efforts to develop a new “anti-satellite” weapons capability that so alarmed the leader of the House Intelligence Committee that he went public and described it as a “national security threat,” according to National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby.

The House Intelligence panel chairman, Ohio Representative Mike Turner, drew attention to the threat earlier on Wednesday when he issued an unusually cryptic statement on the “serious national security threat” and called on Mr Biden to “declassify all information relating to this threat so that Congress, the Administration, and our allies can openly discuss the actions necessary to respond to this threat”.

According to ABC News, two sources described the threat at issue as emanating from Russia and involving plans to potentially use space-based nuclear weapons for anti-satellite purposes.

Mr Kirby did not say whether the threat in question was nuclear-based, but he did confirm to reporters at Thursday’s White House press briefing that the threat raised by Mr Turner is “related to an anti-satellite capability that Russia is developing” and confirmed that the weapon in question is “space-based” and if deployed would represent a violation of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty to which both the United States and Russia are signatories.

He took pains to stress that the weapon was not one that Russia could use at this time.

“This is not an active capability that’s been deployed. And though Russia’s pursuit of this particular capability is troubling, there is no immediate threat to anyone’s safety,” he said.

“We are not talking about a weapon that can be used to attack human beings or cause physical destruction here on Earth. That said, we’ve been closely monitoring this Russian activity and we will continue to take it very seriously”.

Mr Kirby told reporters the president has been kept “fully ... and regularly informed” on the developments related to this Russian capability by his national security team, and he stressed that Mr Biden has “directed a series of initial actions” in response, including “additional briefings to congressional leaders, direct diplomatic engagement with Russia, with our allies and our partners as well and with other countries around the world who have interests at stake”.

While White House officials have briefed Mr Turner, House Intelligence Committee ranking member Jim Himes, House Speaker Mike Johnson and Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries on the threat, and Mr Turner has in turn allowed each member of the House to view the classified intelligence at issue, Mr Kirby said the Biden administration would not be taking immediate action to declassify the intelligence that Mr Turner thrust into the public eye on Wednesday.

He told reporters that the US Intelligence Community has “serious concerns about a broad declassification of this intelligence,” and he explained that intelligence officials believe “private engagement” would be a better course of action than working swiftly to declassify and publicise the information at issue.

“We make decisions about how and when to publicly disclose intelligence in a careful, deliberate and strategic way, in a way that we choose,” he said. “We’re not going to be knocked off that process, regardless of what in this particular case has found its way into the public domain”.

He added that the administration would “continue to keep members of Congress as well as our international partners and all of you and the American people as fully informed as possible”.

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