U.S. security threat warning concerns Russian nuclear capabilities in space: reports

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The United States has told Congress and allies in Europe about new intelligence related to Russian nuclear capabilities that could pose an international threat, sources told multiple U.S. media outlets on Wednesday.

A senior congressional aide and three other sources briefed on the intelligence told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity that the threat relates to a space-deployed Russian anti-satellite weapon. Such a weapon could pose a major danger to U.S. satellites that transmit billions of bytes of data each hour.

The new capabilities do not pose an urgent threat to the United States, a source briefed on the matter told Reuters.

The intelligence came to light after Representative Mike Turner, Republican chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives intelligence committee, issued an unusual and cryptic statement on Wednesday warning of a “serious national security threat.”

Sources later said the warning was related to Russian capabilities in space, related to satellites. One of the sources said the issue is serious, but is not related to an active capability nor should it be a cause for panic.

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“I am requesting that President Biden declassify all information relating to this threat so that Congress, the Administration, and our allies can openly discuss the actions necessary to respond to this threat,” Turner said in the statement, providing no further information.

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Citing a current and a former U.S. official, the New York Times reported earlier that the new intelligence was related to Russia’s attempts to develop a space-based anti-satellite nuclear weapon. ABC News reported earlier that the intelligence had to do with such a capability. Current and former officials said the nuclear weapon was not in orbit.

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Turner’s statement was released in the midst of debate in Congress over how the United States should be dealing with global threats from Russia and other rivals, with security hawks urging greater global involvement and some lawmakers most closely allied with former Republican President Donald Trump advocating for a more isolationist “America First” approach to world affairs.

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Turner recently returned from leading a bipartisan congressional delegation to Ukraine, after which he warned his fellow lawmakers that time was running out for Ukraine in its fight against Russian invaders.

The Biden administration has been ramping up its criticism of House Republicans for possibly blocking a $95 billion bill passed by the Senate that would supply aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan. Supporters of the bill argue that a major reason for the United States to back the government in Kyiv is to push back against threats from Russia that extend beyond Ukraine.

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'Not a cause for panic'

House Speaker Mike Johnson, a staunch Trump ally who says he will not rush to allow a vote on the Senate bill, told reporters at the Capitol there was no need for public alarm. “Steady hands are at the wheel. We’re working on it and there’s no need for alarm,” he said.

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Senators Mark Warner and Marco Rubio, the Democratic chairperson and Republican vice chairperson of the Senate Intelligence Committee, issued a joint statement saying their panel has the intelligence in question and has been “rigorously” tracking the issue.

A source familiar with the matter said Warner and Rubio had been briefed on the threat weeks ago. The source said the issue was not unrelated to the security spending bill, but there is no direct tie between them.

Representative Jim Himes, the top Democrat on the House intelligence panel, said the issue in Turner’s statement is significant, “but it is not a cause for panic.”

The White House and lawmakers expressed frustration at how Turner raised his concerns. His announcement appeared to catch the Biden administration off-guard.

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National security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters at the White House that he already had been due to brief Turner and other senior congressional leaders on Thursday. Sullivan did not disclose the topic or provide any other details related to Turner’s statement.

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“I’m focused on going to see him, sit with him as well as the other House members of the Gang of Eight, tomorrow,” Sullivan said. “And I’m not in a position to say anything further from this podium at this time.”

He acknowledged it was not standard practice to offer such a briefing.

“I’ll just say that I personally reached out to the Gang of Eight. It is highly unusual, in fact, for the national security adviser to do that,” Sullivan said. He said he had reached out earlier this week.

—With additional files from the Associated Press

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