American spy agencies don’t want Russian GPS sites in their backyard
Planto let Moscow build monitor stationson US soil, as a gesture to improve diplomatic relations, is opposed by the CIA and Pentagon
In the view of US spy services, the next potential threat from Russia may not come from a nefarious cyberweapon or secrets gleaned from the files of Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor now in Moscow.
Instead, this menace may come in the form of a seemingly innocuous dome-topped antenna perched atop an electronics-packed building surrounded by a security fence somewhere in the United States.
In recent months, the CIA and the Pentagon have been quietly waging a campaign to stop the State Department allowing Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, to build about half a dozen of these structures, known as monitor stations, on American soil, several US officials said.
They fear that these structures could help Russia spy on the US and improve the precision of Russian weaponry, the officials said. These monitor stations, the Russians contend, would significantly improve the accuracy and reliability of Moscow’s version of the global positioning system, the US satellite network that steers guided missiles to their targets and thirsty smartphone users to the nearest Starbucks.
“They don’t want to be reliant on the American system and believe that their systems, like GPS, will spawn other industries and applications,” said a former senior official in the State Department’s Office of Space and Advanced Technology.
“They feel as though they are losing a technological edge to us in an important market. Look at everything GPS has done on things like your phone and the movement of planes and ships,” the former official, who requested anonymity, said.
The Russian effort is part of a larger global race by several countries – including China and European Union nations – to perfect their own global positioning systems and challenge the dominance of the American GPS.
For the State Department, permitting Russia to build the stations would help mend the Obama administration’s relationship with the government of President Vladimir Putin, now at a nadir because of Moscow’s granting asylum to Snowden and its backing of President Bashar Assad of Syria.
But the CIA and other US spy agencies, as well as the Pentagon, suspect that the monitor stations would give the Russians a foothold on US territory that would sharpen the accuracy of Moscow’s satellite-steered weapons. The stations, they believe, could also give the Russians an opening to snoop on the US within its borders.
The squabble is serious enough that administration officials have delayed a final decision until the Russians provide more information and until the US agencies sort out their differences, State Department and White House officials said.
The monitor stations have been a high priority of Putin for several years as a means to improve the Global Navigation Satellite System (Glonass) not only to benefit the Russian military and civilian sectors but also to compete globally with GPS.
This year, Russia positioned a station in Brazil, and agreements with Spain, Indonesia and Australia are expected soon, according to Russian news reports. The US has stations around the world, but none in Russia.
Russian and US negotiators last met on April 25 to weigh “general requirements for possible Glonass monitoring stations in US territory and the scope of planned future discussions”, said a State Department spokeswoman, Marie Harf, who said no final decision had been made.
The Russian government offered few details about the programme. In a statement, a spokesman for the Russian embassy in Washington, Yevgeniy Khorishko, said that the stations were deployed “only to ensure calibration and precision of signals for the Glonass system.”
Although the cold war is long over, the Russians do not want to rely on the American GPS infrastructure because they remain suspicious of America’s military capabilities, security analysts say.
That is why they have insisted on pressing ahead with their own system despite the high costs. Accepting the dominance of GPS, Russians fear, would give the US some serious strategic advantages militarily.
In Russians’ worst fears, analysts said, Americans could potentially manipulate signals and send erroneous information to Russian armed forces.