May 06, 2024

Warren Raises National Security Concerns, Calls on DoD to Hold SpaceX Accountable for Use of Starlink by Russia, Other Sanctioned U.S. Adversaries

“SpaceX must make every attempt to ensure its Starlink devices and service are obtained and operated in full compliance with US law – but reports suggests it may not be doing so effectively”

“It is imperative that the Department of Defense hold its contractors accountable for any mismanagement or illegal acquisition of its hardware and services by hostile actors.” 

Text of Letter (PDF)

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) wrote to the Department of Defense (DoD), following a deeply troubling Wall Street Journal investigation revealing that Starlink, a satellite-internet service and subsidiary of DoD contractor SpaceX, is being used by Russia and other sanctioned U.S. adversaries, and concerns that the company has not taken appropriate action to stop this illicit activity. Senator Warren is calling on the DoD to ensure that DoD contractors are held accountable for any expropriation of their technology by hostile actors. 

Last month, the Wall Street Journal’s investigation revealed that black market middlemen are buying Starlink user terminals and smuggling them to U.S. adversaries around the world, including Russian forces in Ukraine. 

“SpaceX must make every attempt to ensure its Starlink devices and service are obtained and operated in full compliance with US law – but reports suggest it may not be doing so effectively,” Senator Warren wrote

The expropriation of Starlink services has drastically reduced the strategic advantage it has provided to Ukraine during the war, after their hardwired internet and telephone access was destroyed, degrading its capacity to defend itself. In fact, the application of Starlink in Ukraine had helped turn the tide of the war in Ukraine’s favor.

For years, Russia had operated with a “communications system unsuited for modern warfare.” By using Starlink as a communication tool, the Russian military mitigated one of its key weaknesses in its invasion of Ukraine. Reports from February 2024 indicate that Starlink has been aware of hostile actors circumventing U.S. sanctions to acquire its terminals, and that U.S. officials are “working with Ukraine and…with Starlink,” to address this misuse, but the status of these efforts is unclear.

Senator Warren requests answers from DoD on their contractor relationship with and oversight power over SpaceX by June 5, 2024. 

Senator Warren has long fought to ensure federal contractors are acting the best interest of the American people: 

  • In April 2024, Senator Warren and Representative Casten led lawmakers in a letter to the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) Council, urging them to finalize the Federal Supplier Climate Risks and Resilience Rule as quickly as possible to hold federal contractors responsible for their climate emissions. 

  • In February 2024, Senator Warren and Representative John Garamendi (D-Calif.), sent a letter to Secretary Austin, expressing concerns with the DoD’s insufficient review process for consolidation in the defense industrial base and the resulting impact on supply chains, innovation, and national security. They called on DoD to conduct more thorough and transparent assessments of M&A in the defense space and ensure the integrity of the defense industrial base.

  • In September 2023, Senators Warren (D-Mass), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), and Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), members of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, requesting information regarding reports that Elon Musk restricted the use of Starlink satellite communications (SATCOM) terminals used by the Ukrainian Armed Forces (UAF) in southern Ukraine in 2022. The letter also asks whether further legislation is necessary to ensure continuity of satellite access. 

  • In July 2023, Senator Warren and colleagues sent a letter to DoD, urging the department to tighten up their merger review process, publicly disclose merger risks, and conduct a full review of the L3 Harris Technologies and Aerojet Rocketdyne merger.

  • In June 2023, Senator Warren and Representative Andy Kim (D-N.J.) re-introduced the Department of Defense (DoD) Ethics and Anti-Corruption Act to limit the influence of contractors on the military, restrict foreign influence on retired senior military officers, and assert greater transparency over contractors and their interaction with DoD.

  • In May 2023, Senators Warren, Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Braun, Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) sent a letter to DoD urging an investigation into contractor price gouging.

  • In January 2023, Senator Warren sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), urging it to oppose L3Harris Technologies merging with Aerojet Rocketdyne.

  • In March 2022, Senator Warren introduced the Prohibiting Anticompetitive Mergers Act to help stomp out rampant industry consolidation that allows companies to raise consumer prices and mistreat workers. The bill would ban the biggest, most anticompetitive mergers and give the Department of Justice and FTC the teeth to reject deals in the first instance without court orders and to break up harmful mergers.