Musk threatened with probe for blocking Ukrainian attack
US Senator Elizabeth Warren has called on Congress to investigate Elon Musk over his refusal to enable a Ukrainian drone attack on the Russian naval fleet in Crimea. Despite condemnation in Washington, Musk has defended his decision to cut satellite service to the Ukrainian military.
“The Congress needs to investigate what’s happened here and whether we have adequate tools to make sure foreign policy is conducted by the government and not by one billionaire,” Warren told reporters at the US Capitol on Monday.
Musk and other Big Tech CEOs are due to meet with US lawmakers to discuss artificial intelligence on Wednesday. However, the subject of the hearing has been overshadowed by news that Musk intervened last year to prevent six Ukrainian naval drones from hitting Russian ships at the Crimean port of Sevastopol.
The Ukrainian military had been using SpaceX’s Starlink satellite internet service for communications and guidance since the beginning of the conflict with Russia. When Musk learned that the drones were en route to Sevastopol, he ordered SpaceX engineers to shut down the service within 100km of the Russian peninsula, CNN reported on Thursday, quoting an upcoming biography of the billionaire.
As a result, the drones “lost connectivity and washed ashore harmlessly,” the report claimed. Ukrainian Digital Transformation Minister Mikhail Fedorov then begged Musk to turn the signal back on via text messages, but Musk refused.
“If I had agreed to their request, then SpaceX would be explicitly complicit in a major act of war and conflict escalation,” the billionaire explained last week, adding that he never allowed the service to be activated near Crimea in the first place.
Musk’s explanation caused outrage in Kiev, with President Vladimir Zelensky’s top aide accusing the SpaceX CEO of “committing evil.” In the US, CNN anchor Jake Tapper argued on Sunday that Musk had “effectively sabotaged” an American ally, and asked US Secretary of State Antony Blinken if he should face “repercussions” for thwarting the attack.
Blinken refused to condemn Musk, but several members of Congress have spoken out against the billionaire. Musk “cannot have the last word when it comes to national security,” Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed told reporters on Monday.
At the time of the thwarted attack, Musk was bankrolling Ukraine’s access to the Starlink network. The Pentagon has since stepped in to partly fund the program, and Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said on Monday that future contracts between the military and private firms like SpaceX will likely include “assurances” that these technologies can be used for offensive purposes.