House Intelligence Committee chair warns of a serious national security threat

Rep. Mike Turner pointing as he speaks from a table on the dais during a hearing
Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio), seen in 2019, says the Biden administration should declassify information on what he says is a serious threat, which a congressional aide indicated involved Russian antisatellite weapons.
(Alex Brandon / Associated Press)

The Republican head of the House Intelligence Committee urged the Biden administration on Wednesday to declassify information about what he called a serious national security threat. A senior congressional aide speaking to the Associated Press pointed to concerns about Russian antisatellite weapons.

Rep. Michael R. Turner (R-Ohio) gave no details about the nature of the threat, and the Biden administration declined to address it. But several leading lawmakers, including House Speaker Mike Johnson, cautioned against being overly alarmed.

The congressional aide said they understood that the potential threat relates to a space-deployed Russian antisatellite weapon that may or may not already have been launched. Such a weapon could pose a major danger to U.S. satellites that transmit billions of bytes of data each hour.


The aide, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter, said it was not yet clear whether the Russian weapon has nuclear capability, but said that is the fear.

Turner had sent an email to members of Congress earlier in the day saying his committee had “identified an urgent matter with regard to a destabilizing foreign military capability” that should be known to all congressional policymakers. He encouraged them to come to a a secure area to review the intelligence.

Turner has been a voice for stronger national security, putting him at odds with some Republican colleagues who favor a more isolationist approach. He has also called for the renewal of a key U.S. government surveillance tool that has raised privacy objections from some fellow Republicans as well as liberal Democrats.

And he supports continuing U.S. military aid for Ukraine in its war against Russia at a time that the funding remains uncertain due to opposition in the Republican-led House.

The remarks from the speaker throw the foreign aid package into serious doubt, despite its approval by a bipartisan Senate vote.

Feb. 14, 2024

Johnson told reporters at the Capitol that he was not at liberty to disclose the classified information.

“We just want to assure everyone: Steady hands are at the wheel. We’re working on it and there’s no need for alarm,” he said.


Rep. Jim Himes of Connecticut, the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, said in a statement that the classified information is “significant” but “not a cause for panic.”

The Senate Intelligence Committee said it has been tracking the issue.

“We continue to take this matter seriously and are discussing an appropriate response with the administration,” Sen. Mark R. Warner of Virginia, the Democratic committee chair, and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, the Republican vice chair, said in a statement. “In the meantime, we must be cautious about potentially disclosing sources and methods that may be key to preserving a range of options for U.S. action.”

The rapidly evolving threat in space was one of the primary reasons that the U.S. Space Force was established in 2019. A lot of that threat has to do with new capabilities that China and Russia have developed that can interfere with crucial satellite-based U.S. communications, such as GPS and the ability to quickly detect missile launches.

In recent years the U.S. has seen both China and Russia pursue new ways to jam satellites, intercept their feeds, blind them, shoot them down and even potentially grab and pull them out of their programmed orbits using a robotic arm. One of the key missions of the Space Force is to train troops skilled in detecting and defending against such threats.

In its 2020 Defense Space Strategy, the Pentagon said China and Russia presented the greatest strategic threat in space due to their aggressive development of counterspace abilities, and their military doctrines calling for extending conflicts to space.

The White House and lawmakers expressed frustration at how Turner raised his concerns after his announcement appeared to catch the Biden administration off guard.


National security advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters at the White House that he had already planned to brief Turner and other senior congressional leaders on Thursday. Sullivan did not disclose the topic or provide any other details related to Turner’s statement.

Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia are considered among the most likely targets if Russia one day decides to risk an attack on the NATO alliance.

Feb. 14, 2024

“I’m focused on going to see him, sit with him as well as the other House members of the Gang of Eight, tomorrow,” Sullivan said, referring to the four top House and Senate leaders and the four leaders of the chambers’ intelligence committees. “And I’m not in a position to say anything further from this podium at this time.”

He acknowledged that it was not standard practice to offer such a briefing.

“I’ll just say that I personally reached out to the Gang of Eight. It is highly unusual, in fact, for the national security advisor to do that,” Sullivan said. He said he had reached out earlier this week.

Johnson said he’d sent a letter last month to the White House requesting a meeting with President Biden to discuss “the serious national security issue that is classified.” He said the meeting called by Sullivan was in response to his request.

Lee, Freking and Knickmeyer write for the Associated Press. Lee reported from Munich. AP writers Aamer Madhani and Tara Copp contributed to this report.