Tue. Sep 26th, 2023
Controversial Detail about Elon Musk Thwarting Ukrainian Drone Attack Incorrect, Biographer Admits

The author of a new biography on Elon Musk, Walter Isaacson, has acknowledged that a controversial detail in an online extract of his book is factually incorrect. The extract, originally published in the Washington Post, suggested that Elon Musk secretly ordered SpaceX engineers to turn off Starlink coverage within 100km of the Crimean coast to prevent a Ukrainian attack on a Russian naval base in September 2022.

Elon Musk promptly challenged the accuracy of the story, stating on Twitter that the Starlink regions mentioned were not activated in the first place, and that the company did not deactivate anything. Musk further explained that there was an emergency request from government authorities to activate Starlink to Sevastopol, with the intent being to sink most of the Russian fleet at anchor. Musk refused the request to avoid being complicit in an act of war and escalation of conflict.

Walter Isaacson later tweeted a clarification based on conversations with Musk, stating that the Ukrainians mistakenly believed that coverage was enabled all the way to Crimea, but it was not. They asked Musk to enable it for their drone submarine attack on the Russian fleet, which Musk refused as it would potentially lead to a major war.

Isaacson admitted that he mistakenly believed the policy preventing Starlink from being used for an attack on Crimea was decided on the night of the attempted Ukrainian attack, but Musk clarified that the policy had been implemented earlier, and he simply reaffirmed it that night.

Elon Musk expressed his appreciation for Isaacson’s correction on Twitter and highlighted that the onus is different if he refused to act upon a request from Ukraine rather than deliberately changing Starlink to thwart Ukraine. He also emphasized that Starlink’s terms of service prohibit its use for offensive military actions as it is a civilian system.

The Washington Post extract has been updated with a correction at the top of the article page, removing the incorrect claims. Isaacson’s book provides a comprehensive account of Elon Musk’s life, starting with his childhood in South Africa.