US counterintelligence agencies on Friday warned the American space industry to guard against efforts by foreign intelligence entities to steal research and trade secrets as they try to boost their own countries’ space programs.
“We anticipate growing threats to this burgeoning sector of the US economy,” a US counterintelligence official told Reuters, adding that “China and Russia are among the leading foreign intelligence threats to the US space industry.”
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC) and the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI) issued a two-page bulletin, saying unspecified foreign entities were using cyberattacks and techniques such as strategic investment through joint ventures and acquisitions to gain access to the US space industry.
The move is the latest push by Washington to raise awareness about an issue that has long vexed counterintelligence officials and has become a higher priority as the US space industry spends billions of dollars developing new rockets and other technology.
The document warned companies to be on guard for facility visit requests, and attempts to gather confidential information at conferences. It also said individual employees were at risk of recruitment efforts through offers of travel abroad or consultancy work and payment for proprietary information.
It urged companies to contact the FBI or AFOSI with any concerns of being targeted, as well as to track “peculiar incidents” and establish “insider threat” programs as part of vetting individuals in sensitive positions.
US authorities have for years said Chinese hackers are targeting US space know-how, including having accessed computers at the NASA Goddard Space Center and Jet Propulsion Laboratory, as well as numerous companies involved in aviation, space and satellite technology.
In 2019, Chinese national Tao Li was sentenced to 40 months in prison for conspiring to illegally export military- and space-grade technology to China, including radiation-hardened power amplifiers and circuits.
China says its space program is for peaceful purposes, but US military officials say Beijing sees space as crucial to its military strategy.
The US warned this year that China seeks to match or surpass it as a leader in space by 2045.