Pentagon Runs Data through Chinese Satellites in Spite of U.S. Security Warnings

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

U.S. troops stationed in Africa, where the military’s role has been growing on the continent, are now relaying data through a new orbiting satellite, Apstar-7. What makes this fact newsworthy is that the satellite does not belong to the United States—but to China.


The Department of Defense says its demand for transmitting electronic data and communications has grown so much that the government cannot provide enough capacity through American satellites to accommodate the military.


So, the Pentagon cut a one-year, $10 million deal with the Chinese to send and receive encrypted information through Apstar-7, which is owned and operated by a subsidiary of the state-controlled China Satellite Communication Company.


During the past few years, the U.S. government has publicly warned against allowing sensitive data to be carried or transmitted on any Chinese-controlled electronic equipment, believing it could serve as a pipeline to Chinese intelligence services. But now, in the case of Apstar-7, U.S. defense officials say they are certain the Chinese cannot decode the data and steal anything important. They point out that U.S. encryption and transmission security in which the data is imbedded will fully protect it.


Some experts expressed reservations about the arrangement. Dean Cheng, a research fellow and China specialist at the Heritage Foundation, said he was “startled” when he heard about it.


“Is this risky? Well, since the satellite was openly contracted, they [the Chinese] know who is using which transponders. And I suspect they’re making a copy of all of it,” Cheng told Wired. He noted that even the encryption technology used to protect the data may reveal U.S. security methods to the Chinese.


Another point of concern: What if the Chinese decide to suddenly cutoff the U.S. military from using Apstar-7, such during a critical time or political crisis?  What then?

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Pentagon Paying China — Yes, China — To Carry Data (by Noah Shachtman, Wired)

DOD Reviewing Process For Leasing Satellite Services From Chinese Providers (by Courtney Albon,

Military Clashes with U.S. Spies over Outsourcing of Satellite Surveillance (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)        

U.S. Weapons Systems Dependent on Rare Earth Elements from China (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov) 


Leave a comment