Tue. Sep 26th, 2023
Democratic Senators Request Answers from Defense Secretary Austin Regarding Elon Musk’s Role in Ukraine

Three Democratic members of the Senate Armed Services Committee have raised concerns about whether Elon Musk or other commercial satellite providers restricted the Ukrainian military’s access to communication networks. The senators are seeking answers from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on whether the Defense Department has the authority to intervene.

The questions stem from reporting in Walter Isaacson’s biography of Musk, where it was alleged that Musk prevented the Ukrainian armed forces from using Starlink satellite communication terminals for an attack on Russian ships in southern Ukraine. Initial media reports suggested that Musk disabled the Starlink network near the Crimean Peninsula after discussions with senior Russian officials.

However, Musk refuted these claims on his social media platform, stating that he did not discontinue Starlink over Crimea but instead refused a request by Ukraine to provide coverage there. He emphasized that Starlink terms of service prohibit offensive military action and that the system is meant for civilian use.

The senators, Jeanne Shaheen, Elizabeth Warren, and Tammy Duckworth, have asked Defense Secretary Austin to clarify the situation and shed light on Musk’s alleged role. They express concerns about Musk’s involvement and its implications for U.S. national security and question why such actions were allowed. The senators also inquire about any other instances where Starlink or other commercially provided services were disabled or restricted for Ukraine, as well as the Pentagon’s plans to ensure reliable communication capabilities during times of crisis.

In response to these concerns, the chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Jack Reed, stated that serious national security liability issues have been exposed and that the committee is actively engaged in addressing the matter. Reed emphasized that no private citizen, including Elon Musk, should have the final say in matters of U.S. national security. He calls for a broader examination of satellite markets, government outsourcing, and the Pentagon’s actions and contracts.

The senators have requested a response from Defense Secretary Austin by October 31st. In June, the Pentagon signed a contract with SpaceX to continue providing Starlink to Ukraine after Musk threatened to cut off service due to cost concerns.