Tue. Oct 3rd, 2023
Democratic Senators Seek Answers on Starlink Incident in Ukraine

Three members of the Senate Armed Services Committee have written a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin requesting clarification on whether Elon Musk or other commercial satellite providers restricted the Ukrainian military’s access to communication networks. They also want to know if the Defense Department has the authority to intervene in such situations.

The questions arise from a passage in journalist Walter Isaacson’s biography of Musk, where it is mentioned that Musk prevented the Ukrainian armed forces from using Starlink satellite communication terminals to launch an attack on Russian ships in southern Ukraine. Initial reports about the book suggested that Musk disabled the Starlink network near the Crimean Peninsula after discussions with senior Russian officials. However, Musk denied this and stated that Ukraine had requested coverage over Crimea, which was not allowed by Starlink’s terms of service.

In their letter, the Democratic senators expressed concern about Musk’s decision, which they believe provided indirect protection to the Russian military. They questioned whether Musk had undermined a key U.S. partner and demanded answers about the Department of Defense’s actions in response to these allegations.

The senators also asked for information on other instances where Starlink or similar services were disabled or restricted for Ukrainians since Russia’s invasion. They requested details on the Pentagon’s contracts with these companies and whether the companies are prohibited from impeding services. Additionally, they wanted to know how the Defense Department is working to ensure alternative options and increased capabilities during times of crisis.

The Senate Armed Services Committee chair, Jack Reed, also raised concerns about the role of Musk’s business interests in national security. He emphasized that no private citizen, including Musk, should have the final say on matters of national security. Reed stated that the committee will be examining the broader satellite market, government outsourcing, and the actions and contracts of the Pentagon.

The senators have given a deadline of October 31 for Secretary Austin to provide answers to their inquiries.