Newspaper article International New York Times

Russian GPS in U.S. Stirs Spy Fears ; Plan Could Improve Ties, but C.I.A. and Pentagon Oppose New Antennas

Newspaper article International New York Times

Russian GPS in U.S. Stirs Spy Fears ; Plan Could Improve Ties, but C.I.A. and Pentagon Oppose New Antennas

Article excerpt

The Central Intelligence Agency and the Pentagon are waging a campaign to prohibit Russian structures in the United States that the Russians contend improve its version of the global positioning system.

In the view of America's spy services, the next potential threat from Russia may not come from a nefarious cyberweapon or secrets gleaned from the files of Edward J. 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 Central Intelligence Agency and the Pentagon have been quietly waging a campaign to stop the State Department from allowing Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, to build about half a dozen of these structures, known as monitor stations, on United States soil, several American officials said.

They fear that the structures could help Russia spy on the United States and improve the precision of Russian weaponry, the officials said. The monitor stations, the Russians contend, would significantly improve the accuracy and reliability of Moscow's version of the Global Positioning System, the American 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 Office of Space and Advanced Technology at the State Department. "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 Russian effort is part of a larger global race by 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 V. Putin, now at a nadir because of Moscow's granting of temporary asylum to Mr. Snowden and its backing of Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad.

But the C.I.A. and other American spy agencies, as well as the Pentagon, suspect that the monitor stations would give the Russians a foothold on American 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 United States within its borders.

The situation is serious enough that administration officials have delayed a final decision until the Russians provide more information and until the American agencies sort out their differences, State Department and White House officials said.

Russia's efforts have also stirred concerns on Capitol Hill, where members of the intelligence and armed services committees view Moscow's global positioning network -- known as Glonass, for Global Navigation Satellite System -- with deep suspicion and are demanding answers from the administration. …

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