US seeks insight into impact of the leak on Russia’s nuke-satellite

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Yesterday, members of the House Armed Services Committee found themselves in a heated debate over whether classified information about Russia’s development of a satellite capable of detonating a nuclear weapon in space had been leaked. 

Photo credit: Reddit

Rep. Seth Moulton introduced a proposal that would require the defense secretary and the nuclear security administrator to detail how intelligence sources or counter-options were compromised “due to the classified information leak regarding Russia’s development of such a system.”

The amendment to the committee’s version of the fiscal year 2025 defense policy bill was narrowly approved with a 31-27 vote. It garnered support from all of the committee’s Democrats, alongside Republican Reps. Matt Gaetz, Jim Banks, and Nancy Mace. 

Photo credit: VOA

The consequences

“We need to recognize the repercussions of making this information public, as it directly affects our security and our capacity to counteract threats,” Moulton emphasized.

Although it wasn’t explicitly mentioned during the session, the amendment seemed directed at Rep. Mike Turner, a committee member and the chair of the House Intelligence Committee. Earlier this year, Turner urged the Biden administration to declassify what he described as a “serious national security threat.” 

Photo credit: Russian MoD

Soon after, some news outlets suggested that Turner’s comments pertained to Russia’s progress in developing a nuclear anti-satellite weapon. Turner asserted yesterday that the information wasn’t leaked but deliberately released by the administration. “I urged the administration to declassify the information, and they complied,” Turner explained. “That’s why we are privy to this information today—it was declassified, not leaked.”

Confirmation in two months

National security adviser Jake Sullivan confirmed the news with a statement from the White House late last month, following Turner’s request made over two months prior. 

With other committee members passing on their turn to speak, Moulton debated the intricacies of the reported leak with Turner and Rep. Elise Stefanik, who serves on both the House Armed Services and House Intelligence committees. Chairman Mike Rogers stepped in and asked members to direct their comments to him instead of taking jabs at one another. “Everyone needs to lower the heat a bit,” Rogers suggested. 

Unclear about this device

In recent months, American officials have voiced serious concerns about Russia’s potential deployment of a new and menacing space-based weapon. A Department of Defense spokesperson recently shared with Vox, “The United States assesses that Russia is developing a new satellite carrying a nuclear device.” 

Photo credit: NPO Mashinostroyeniya

The Pentagon spokesperson emphasized that a nuclear detonation in space would be “catastrophic,” posing significant threats to the countless satellites operated by various nations and private companies. Such an event could disrupt essential services, including communications, scientific research, weather forecasting, agriculture, and national security operations. This development could signal a new and perilous phase of space militarization and nuclear tension. 

However, the exact nature of this device, its readiness for deployment, and Russia’s intentions remain uncertain. While the U.S. government’s accurate intelligence predictions before the 2022 Ukraine invasion have bolstered its credibility, the details surrounding this new weapon leave many questions unanswered.

February 14

Photo credit: Roscosmos

It all started on February 14 when Rep. Mike Turner [R-OH] sparked curiosity with a mysterious tweet. He mentioned that the House Intelligence Committee, which he chairs, had discovered a “serious national security threat” and urged President Biden to declassify related information. 

Media reports on the same day hinted that Turner’s tweet was about Russia developing a space-based nuclear weapon. Such a weapon would potentially violate the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which forbids placing nuclear weapons in space. The following day, National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby clarified that the threat was related to Russia’s development of anti-satellite capabilities. 

On February 20, Russian President Vladimir Putin denied these reports, stating, “We have always been categorically against and are now against the deployment of nuclear weapons in space.” In response, the US, along with Japan, worked on a UN resolution to reinforce the Outer Space Treaty’s ban on nuclear weapons in space and urged states not to develop such weapons. However, when the resolution was put to a vote on April 25, Russia vetoed it.

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