The Pentagon’s purchase of bandwidth on the majority Chinese-owned Apstar 7 satellite has prompted another bout of Washington handwringing.
Mike Rogers, the GOP Congressman who led the inquiry into Huawei last October, has complained that it “exposes our military to the risk that China may seek to turn off our ’eyes and ears’ at the time of their choosing.”
The US Defence Department’s Africa Command tapped Apstar 7 through a satellite contractor, Harris CapRock Communications, last May. The contract expires on May 14, with an option for a three-year renewal.
HKSE-listed APT Satellite is 61%-owned by the state-owned China Satellite Corporation, according to Bloomberg.
Same old story. If it’s China government-linked, it’s a security threat.
Would a commercial satellite operator truly wish to threaten its business by hacking into its customers’ data? Certainly, the Singaporeans and Taiwanese who are also investors and make up a third of the APT board would be unimpressed, as would other customers and stockholders.
If there’s a slight surprise here it is that the US military’s routinely uses commercial satellites for much if not a majority of its unclassified communications.
Steve Hildreth, a military space policy expert with the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, said in an e-mail that U.S. officials have told him “a very high percentage of U.S. military communications use commercial satellites on a regular and sustained basis.”
“The U.S. military does not have major concerns with this arrangement,” he said.
So the Pentagon, which knows a thing or two about security, figures that it's encrypted and it's not highly sensitive, so why not take advantage of a cost-effective commercial service like we usually do?
China might be a well-documented source of network attacks, but that doesn’t mean every Chinese company is a security threat. The recent Mandiant report, for one, specifically fingered a PLA hacking team and not companies like Huawei or APT.
As this blog has argued before, such evidence-free grandstanding merely reinforces the Beijing view that the US is using the issue to bully China.
If you still think this is anything but rolled-gold BS, then how about Rogers linking it to sequestration, the budget cuts forced on the Obama Administration primarily by the recalcitrance of he and his Republican colleagues?
Referring to the sequester, he told Bloomberg that the use of a foreign commercial satellite “sends a terrible message to our industrial base at a time when it is under extreme stress.” Right. Instead of cutting costs as the GOP demanded, the Pentagon should be ponying up to build more satellites. That's really off the planet.