Chinese and Russian spy agencies are setting their sights on private, United States-based space companies. They are hoping to steal new technologies while thwarting American advances, according to a new warning from US surveillance officials.
The National Counterintelligence and Security Center, the FBI, and the Air Force Office of Special Investigations issued a two-page bulletin on Friday.
It cautioned that foreign agencies have increasingly come to view the growing American space industry as a necessary and lucrative target.
“We anticipate growing threats to this burgeoning sector of the US economy,” an American counterintelligence official said, 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.
Countries like Iran have been tied to plots to steal data from American satellite tracking and communication firms.
“They are targeting this sector to acquire data, technology, and expertise through a variety of means,” the official said.
Specifically, the bulletin warns of cyberattacks and attempts to collect sensitive data on satellite payloads, as well as disrupting communications and other space infrastructure.
These attempts to steal technological data and intellectual property could give American adversaries an economic or military advantage.
US counterintelligence officials emphasized the 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 American space-related technology and the growth of the industry itself.
“The global space economy is projected to grow from US$469 billion in 2021 to more than $1 trillion by 2030,” according to the bulletin.
It further warned that 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 American space economy accounted for more than $211 billion in sales in 2021. It was also 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, they have even created pop-up firms in third countries for the purpose of luring American companies into deals so they can gain access to data or materials.
In January, for example, the US Treasury Department sanctioned a satellite firm called Spacety Luxembourg because of its ties to a Chinese-based company that had been supplying satellite imagery to Russia’s paramilitary Wagner Group operating in Ukraine.
In another incident, from 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 American firms.
US counterintelligence officials also revealed that Russian operatives have been active as they try to evade Ukraine-related sanctions.
Last year, the United States 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.
Finally, Friday’s bulletin warned American space companies to be on the alert for signs they may be the target of foreign spy agencies.
These include an unusually high volume of cyberactivity, requests from unknown entities to visit their facilities and unsolicited offers for investments or joint ventures.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy of China Factor.