Canada briefed on intelligence White House says concerns Russian weapon

Click to play video: 'Russia’s anti-satellite capability ‘troubling’ but no immediate threat, White House says'
Russia’s anti-satellite capability ‘troubling’ but no immediate threat, White House says
WATCH: Russia's anti-satellite capability 'troubling' but no immediate threat, White House says – Feb 15, 2024

Canada has been briefed on U.S. intelligence that the White House publicly confirmed Thursday involves Russia’s “troubling” development of an anti-satellite weapon, a senior government official told Global News.

The official spoke on background to confirm the briefing on intelligence that has yet to be declassified by the United States.

White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said U.S. intelligence officials have information that Russia has obtained the capability but that such a weapon is not currently operational. He said U.S. officials are analyzing the intelligence and have consulted with allies and partners on the matter.

“First, this is not an active capability that’s been deployed and though Russia’s pursuit of this particular capability is troubling, there is no immediate threat to anyone’s safety,” Kirby said. “We’re not talking about a weapon that can be used to attack human beings or cause physical destruction here on Earth.’’

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The development of the weapon nevertheless presents a national and global security threat, Kirby said, because it would have the capability to disrupt satellite networks used for everything from communications to military logistics. He would not confirm reports that the weapon has nuclear capabilities, but did say it would be space-based.

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The Department of National Defence referred Global News’ questions on the intelligence to comments Defence Minister Bill Blair made to CBC News on Thursday, where he said he has been assured “additional clarification” will be coming from the U.S.

“There is obviously concern within the United States about this,” he said in the interview from Brussels, where he was attending a meeting with NATO defence ministers.

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“We are in discussion with our allies and very satisfied with the sharing of the information, but I think it’s most appropriate to leave it to (the U.S.) to comment on their intelligence and the response to it.”

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A spokesperson for the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service said the agency “cannot comment on the nature or substance of closed-door meetings held with partners,” but that U.S. and Canadian intelligence officials “regularly confer on national security matters.”

The White House confirmed the intelligence after a vague statement was issued Wednesday by U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, the Republican chair of the House Intelligence Committee, warning of a “serious national security threat.” The statement urged the Biden administration to declassify the intelligence, which he said he and other congressional national security committee leaders had viewed.

That statement led to multiple U.S. media reports revealing the threat involved a Russian anti-satellite weapon that could be deployed to space and have nuclear capabilities. The reports cited anonymous sources that had been briefed on the intelligence.

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Kirby said Thursday that the process of reviewing and declassifying information about the Russian capability was underway when Turner “regrettably” released his statement. That process includes informing allies and partners, as well as working with the intelligence community to ensure declassified language doesn’t expose the sources behind the intelligence.

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“We have been very careful and deliberate about what we decide to declassify, downgrade and share with the public,” he added.

In a new statement Thursday that appeared to defend his actions, Turner said his committee worked with the Biden administration to notify Congress about the intelligence and that the language used to do so was cleared by the White House, which agreed the matter was “serious.”

The statement did not explain, however, why his initial public warning contained no specific information about the threat or if he had been authorized to do so.

Lawmakers from both parties have criticized Turner’s actions, saying he caused unnecessary panic.

Republican Rep. Andy Ogles sent a letter to House Speaker Mike Johnson on Thursday asking for a formal inquiry into Turner’s actions, suggesting without evidence that his intent was “not to ensure the safety of our homeland and the American people, but rather to ensure additional funding for Ukraine.”

“This act constituted poor judgement at a minimum and a complete breach of trust influenced by the pursuit of a political agenda at a maximum,” Ogles said in the letter, which was obtained by Global News.

That argument was also used by Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov, who said in remarks carried by Russian news agencies that the allegations were intended “to force Congress to vote on the (Ukraine) aid bill by hook or by crook.”

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Peskov otherwise downplayed the U.S. concern about the capability.

Turner has been among the most vocal Republicans in support of approving more Ukraine aid, an issue that has divided his party which controls the House of Representatives. Johnson has said he will not bring a Senate-passed national security funding bill that includes US$60 billion for Ukraine to a vote.

The space-based capability would violate an international space treaty to which more than 130 countries have signed on, including Russia, Kirby said.

He added the Biden administration is looking to engage the Russians directly on the concerns, which are part of the process of declassifying the intelligence.

Asked to respond to Peskov’s comments about the motivation behind releasing the information, Kirby said simply: “Bollocks.”

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—with files from the Associated Press

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