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White House Confirms Russia Anti-Satellite Threat, Says It is Not Active 

By Rachel Jewett | February 15, 2024

White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby speaks to reporters on Thursday. Photo: Screenshot

The White House confirmed on Thursday that Russia is developing an anti-satellite (ASAT) capability, although it is not an active capability. This disclosure came after Congressman Mike Turner called for the White House to declassify information about a “serious national security threat.” 

Turner, R-Ohio, chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI), released a statement on Wednesday that HPSCI made information about the national security threat available to all members of Congress on Wednesday. 

While Turner did not specify what the threat is, reporting followed in national news outlets that it is about Russia wanting to put a nuclear weapon into space, which would be a violation of the Outer Space Treaty. 

White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said the intelligence is not about an active capability that has been deployed, but rather one that is being developed. 

“Though Russia’s pursuit of this particular capability is troubling, there is no immediate threat to anyone’s safety,” Kirby said. “We are not talking about a weapon that can be used to attack human beings or cause physical destruction here on Earth.”

Kirby said the White House has been informed about this capability for months to a few years, and in recent weeks the Intelligence Community has higher confidence about how Russia continues to pursue it. The White House is monitoring the situation taking it “very seriously.” 

He would not address specifics on what the capability involves, such as whether it is nuclear or nuclear-powered. He also did not address whether the U.S. has strategic deterrent capabilities against it, citing protocol. 

Russia is part of the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, which prohibits nations from putting nuclear weapons or weapons of mass destruction in space. 

In November 2021, Russia used an anti-satellite weapon against one of its own defunct satellites, generating more than 1,500 pieces of debris, according to the U.S. government. This led to the U.S. adopting a formal policy against ASAT tests, which a number of other countries have joined, but Russia has not. 

While Kirby did not get into the details of the anti-satellite capability, he said any anti-satellite capability is cause for concern, referencing how public and private satellites contribute to communications, command and control, transportation, meteorology, and finance. 

“Any capability that could disrupt that and could have some impact on services on Earth and across the world should be of concern to anybody — including the fact that we have astronauts in Low-Earth Orbit. You’re talking about potential human lives here,” he said. 

Regarding Representative Turner’s disclosure, Kirby said the White House was going through the process of strategically downgrading the intelligence to declassify it when it “regrettably” entered the public domain. That process includes briefings with Congressional leaders, diplomatic engagement with Russia, and allies and partners and other countries around the world. 

“The Intelligence Community has serious concerns about a broad declassification of this intelligence,” Kirby said.  

“If there’s a presumption that somehow the administration gave a green light for this information to get public yesterday, that is false. That is not true. That did not happen,” Kirby added. “We were eventually going to get to a point where we were going to share it with the American people. And we still will, as appropriate. We’ll keep you as informed as we can.”