It appears that pleas for President Obama to toughen his stance on Russia have fallen on deaf ears. Despite a litany of brazen power plays by Moscow, the Obama administration is now considering a proposal that could enhance Russia's capability to spy on the United States. The Senate will soon have an opportunity to ensure that this proposal and any others like it in the future do not put America's national security interests at risk.
Many Americans were stunned when, on November 16, news reports surfaced that Russian Space agency Roscosmos is close to gaining approval for the construction of half-a-dozen satellite ground monitoring stations on U.S. soil. It is disturbing that it took leaks to the media from defense and intelligence officials for Americans to discover that such an audacious proposal was even under review.
The stated purpose of the Russian-controlled monitoring stations is to improve Moscow's global positioning network, but logic dictates that the stations would also give Russia a prime vantage point to spy on the United States from within our own borders.
The project has rightly stirred serious concerns within the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Pentagon. As Department of Defense (DoD) and CIA officials have warned, Russia could use these stations to gather intelligence and provide its satellite-guided weapons with pinpoint accuracy.
I have personally reviewed the classified report from DoD on this issue. I share DoD's alarm.
The disagreement between these agencies and the State Department suggests a troubling tug-of-war within the Obama administration over how to counter Russia's growing boldness. From agreements to reduce nuclear stockpiles to scrapping our Eastern European missile defense system, the administration's naïve attempts to "reset" relations with Russia continue to ignore the fact that President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly refused to cooperate with the United States. Instead, Putin seems to relish any opportunity to mock U.S. power.
Here is just how badly the "reset" has gone this year: In January, Russia's ban on U.S. adoptions took effect, victimizing his country's most vulnerable citizens in a desperate act of retaliation against criticism of Russia's human rights offenders. In August, Russia granted asylum to U.S. fugitive Edward Snowden, who is charged with espionage and theft of U.S. government property after releasing up to 200,000 classified documents to the media. Not to mention that Russia has defended the brutal regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
It is time to stop pretending that Russia is genuinely interested in engaging in good-faith efforts to advance bilateral relations with the United States. Putin's Russia appears increasingly emboldened by the Obama administration's promises of "flexibility" and reluctance to challenge Russia's insults. Alongside the rollback of democratic progress and declining rule of law within Russia, today's tense relations are reminiscent of an era prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall.
So far, the pushback from DoD and the Intelligence community has forced the administration to delay a final decision on Russia's proposed GPS stations, but I am hopeful my Senate colleagues will support legislation to add transparency to this urgent and serious matter. My amendment to the 2014 Defense Authorization bill would require both the Secretary of Defense and Director of National Intelligence to certify that any U.S.-based GPS stations controlled by foreign governments are not capable of gathering intelligence or improving foreign weapons systems. This determination would be made before any construction could be authorized.
The Obama administration should seize this opportunity to reaffirm that America's national security interests will not be jeopardized by attempts to appease Russia's own strategic pursuits. A better "reset" would be one that rebuilds public confidence in the administration's handling of its relationship with Russia.