Surveillance-mad US bans Russia's GLONASS for spying fears - experts
30 December 2013, 16:24
The United States does not want GLONASS stations on its territory. Americans are afraid that Russia's GLONASS global satellite navigation system might be used to spy on the US. No official ban has been imposed, but the new requirements that have been put forward now make the deployment of ground-based tracking stations next to impossible. The 2014 defense bill signed by President Barack Obama rules that the navigation systems of other countries must not harm the American GPS system by making it less commercially attractive and obliged to transmit only uncodified data.
Despite that unfriendly gesture towards GLONASS, satellite navigation is a sphere where cooperation and teamwork should prevail, Alexei Smyatskikh, General Director of the SpaceTeam holding, told the Voice of Russia.
"There are no restrictions on GPS signal reception or use in Russia or anywhere in the world. We have always been open to cooperation. All specialists have always said and continue saying that customers will benefit much more by using both systems – the GLONASS-GPS combination – than by using just one," Smyatskikh said.
The Russian side applied for permission to build GLONASS tracking stations on US soil in May 2012. The US State Department was about to grant it but faced strong criticism from Congress and the Pentagon amid fears that Russia might potentially use those stations for spying on the US, hence a clause in the defense bill requiring that foreign satellite navigation systems transmit only uncodified data.
The problem is, however, that the American side too can use its GPS system for military purposes. So, should Russia respond?
"One of the reasons why we began deploying our own satellite navigation system was that, firstly, we do not want to depend on the prospect of being cut off as it might occur to the Americans to do, and, secondly, we want to rule out situations where the GPS might be used to spy on the movements of some of our sensitive shipments or persons," Alexander Vlasov, Marketing Director for the Grotek company told the Voice of Russia.
It is no secret that the US National Security Agency (NSA) resorts to highly sophisticated electronic surveillance methods to spy on politicians worldwide. As follows from revelations by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, the NSA tracked European officials, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, by tapping their mobile phones. The latest reports say that the NSA collected sensitive data from the Sea-Me-We-4 undersea optical telecommunications cable system connecting Europe, North Africa and Asia.
US President Barack Obama has signed a bill hindering the construction of GLONASS stations on the US territory. The document rules that the matter requires the Secretary of Defense and the Director of National Intelligence to report the case to Congress first.
Under the Republican-proposed bill, the Pentagon and CIA chiefs are to provide assurances that GLONASS stations will not be used for spying against the US or for improving the efficiency of Russian weapons, the New York Times says.
The signing was preceded by protracted debates between various US agencies and departments. The bill reflects their authors’ suspicions towards and distrust of Russia’s GLONASS global satellite navigation system.
One of the authors of the bill acknowledged in an interview that the aim was to make the construction of GLONASS stations in the US almost or totally impossible and also to prevent the Department of State from having a say on the issue.
The GLONASS bill was subsequently included into the Pentagon’s draft next year budget.
In an apparent attempt to play down the consequences of the move, the White House has announced that talks with the Russian side will continue.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence has declined to comment on the issue. A spokesperson for the Department of State said that the matter would be handled in line with the existing legislation.
In 2012, Russia’s Roscosmos space agency announced plans to build eight monitoring stations on US soil to improve the accuracy of GLONASS. Russia has 19 ground-based GLONASS stations on its own territory.
In November, the Pentagon and the CIA, fearing that the move might enhance the capability of the Russian space system, urged the State Department to turn down Roscosmos’ request.
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