White House confirms Russia developing 'anti-satellite capability'

John Kirby emphasized it couldn't be used to "attack human beings" on Earth.

ByAlexandra Hutzler, Lauren Peller, and John Parkinson ABCNews logo
Thursday, February 15, 2024
White House confirms Russia developing 'anti-satellite capability'
White House spokesman John Kirby confirmed Thursday that the intelligence is related to what he called "an anti-satellite capability" he said was still being developed by Russia.

WASHINGTON -- National security adviser Jake Sullivan was headed to Capitol Hill Thursday to brief House members of the "Gang of 8" congressional leaders on what ABC News first reported, citing sources, was intelligence relating to Russia's desire to put a nuclear weapon into space to use against satellites.

White House spokesman John Kirby confirmed Thursday that the intelligence is related to what he called "an anti-satellite capability" he said was still being developed by Russia, but declined to answer whether that system would be considered a nuclear weapon or nuclear capable.

"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."

Kirby said Thursday the U.S. has had general knowledge of Russia's ambition for such capabilities for "many months, if not a few years" but said only recently has the intelligence community been able to "assess with a higher sense of confidence exactly how Russia continues to pursue it."

Kirby said the administration is taking the potential threat "very seriously" and is working to inform lawmakers as well as allies around the world.

"Nothing is more important to President Biden and the safety and security of the American people," Kirby said. "That's his top priority and it's going to remain front and center as we continue to determine the next best steps."

But he said they had "serious concerns" about a broad declassification of the intelligence as has been requested by Republican House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Turner.

"Turner on Wednesday first warned of a "national security threat" related to a "destabilizing foreign military capability." Turner called on President Biden to declassify all information related to the threat.

The statement appeared to catch the White House off guard. Sullivan told reporters the administration had already scheduled Thursday's classified briefing before Turner made his announcement.

The Senate members of the "Gang of 8" will be briefed when they are back in session Feb. 25, Kirby said, adding that the administration did not give a "green light" for Turner to make the information public Wednesday but had planned to "share it with the American people" at an "appropriate" point.

Russia, in response, has cast the situation as an attempt by the Biden administration to get lawmakers to pass additional aid to Ukraine that's stalled in Congress.

"I can't comment on it in any way," Dmitry Peskov, President Vladimir Putin's press secretary, told reporters on Thursday. "Let's wait for this briefing by [Jake Sullivan], whether there will be any information. But it is obvious that the White House is trying, by hook or by crook, to encourage Congress to vote on a bill to allocate money, this is obvious. We'll see what tricks the White House will use."

Kirby said the administration has reached out to Russia but hasn't secured any conversations.

Some have criticized Turner for going public in the first place. Rep. Andy Ogles, R-Tenn., on Thursday requested Speaker Mike Johnson launch an inquiry into Turner's statement.

"This revelation by the chairman was done with a reckless disregard of the implications and consequences said information would have on geopolitics, domestic and foreign markets, or the well-being and psyche of the American people," Ogles said in his letter to Johnson.

Turner did not give the speaker's office a heads-up prior to releasing warning of a "serious national security threat," a source familiar with the matter told ABC News.

Ogles added, "In hindsight, it has become clear that the intent was not to ensure the safety of our homeland and the American people, but rather to ensure additional funding for Ukraine and passage of an unreformed Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). This act constituted poor judgment at a minimum and a complete breach of trust influenced by the pursuit of a political agenda at a maximum."

Amid the backlash, Turner contended he "worked in consultation" with the Biden administration on the notification he sent to members of Congress informing them of the intelligence. However, the notification sent to members of Congress is not the same as his statement released to the general public about the threat.

"If there's a presumption here that somehow the administration gave a green light for this information to get public yesterday, that is false," Kirby said. "That is not true."

He said the intelligence community is now analyzing whether any sources or methods were compromised as a result of how this was handled.

"We were eventually going to get to a point where we were going to be able to share it with the American people, and we still will as appropriate,"Kirby continued. "Now's not that time for us to go into any more detail than this."

ABC News' Justin Gomez contributed to this report.