Washington: According to a recent warning from US counterintelligence officials, Chinese and Russian spy agencies are focusing on private US space companies in an effort to obtain cutting-edge technologies while impeding American advancements, Voice of America (VOA) reported.
The two-page advisory, which was released by the FBI, the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, and the National Counterintelligence and Security Centre on Friday, warned that foreign intelligence organisations have started to increasingly see the expanding US space sector as a critical and profitable target.
“We anticipate growing threats to this burgeoning sector of the US economy,” said a US counterintelligence official, speaking about the new warning on the condition of anonymity.
“China and Russia are among the leading foreign intelligence threats to the US space industry, but other nations are also targeting this sector,” the official added, noting countries like Iran have also been tied to plots to steal data from US satellite tracking and communication firms.
“They are targeting this sector to acquire data, technology, and expertise through a variety of means,” the official said.
The bulletin specifically warns of cyberattacks, attempts to gather private information from satellite payloads, attempts to interfere with satellite communications and other space infrastructure, and thefts of technology and intellectual property that could give US adversaries a competitive or strategic advantage.
US counterintelligence officials emphasize the just-issued warning is not the result of any one development. Instead, they point to a combination of factors, including repeated attempts by China and Russia to acquire US space-related technology and the growth of the industry itself.
“The global space economy is projected to grow from USD 469 billion in 2021 to more than USD 1 trillion by 2030,” according to the bulletin, which further warned space is now “fundamental to every aspect of our society, including emergency services, energy, financial services, telecommunications, transportation, and food and agriculture.”
A separate report in June by the US Bureau of Economic Analysis found the US space economy accounted for more than USD 211 billion in sales in 2021 while being responsible for 360,000 private sector jobs.
Such rapid growth, according to US counterintelligence officials, is also creating opportunities for foreign spy agencies to take advantage of US space companies.
In some cases, foreign spy agencies have even created pop-up companies in third countries for the purpose of luring US companies into deals so they can gain access to data or materials.
In January, for example, the US Treasury Department sanctioned a satellite company called Spacety Luxembourg because of its ties to a Chinese-based company that had been supplying satellite imagery to Russia’s paramilitary Wagner Group to help with operations in Ukraine.
In another case, in 2019, a Chinese national was sentenced to more than three years in prison for using a variety of aliases to obtain radiation-hardened power amplifiers and supervisory circuits from US companies.
US counterintelligence officials say Russian operatives have also been active as they try to evade Ukraine-related sanctions.
In October 2022, the US charged five Russian nationals for a scheme to get advanced semiconductors and microprocessors that could be used in satellites and missiles.
Counterintelligence officials also pointed to Russia’s February 2022 cyberattack against a satellite network operated by US-based Viasat.
Friday’s bulletin warned US space companies to be on the alert for signs they may be the target of foreign spy agencies, including an unusually high volume of cyberactivity, requests from unknown entities to visit their facilities and unsolicited offers for investments or joint ventures.