Wed, Nov 20, 2013 - Page 9 News List

A Russian GPS using US soil stirs spy fears

Critics say allowing monitor stations for a Russian satellite-based navigation system could enable spying and erode the strategic advantages that come with the world’s reliance on the US’ GPS

By Michael Schmidt and Eric Schmitt  /  NY Times News Service, WASHINGTON

The monitor stations have been a high priority of Putin for several years as a means to improve GLONASS not only to benefit the Russian military and civilian sectors, but also to compete globally with GPS.

This year, Russia positioned a station in Brazil, and agreements with Spain, Indonesia and Australia are expected soon, according to Russian news reports. The US has stations around the world, but none in Russia.

Russian and US negotiators last met on April 25 to weigh “general requirements for possible GLONASS monitoring stations in US territory and the scope of planned future discussions,” said State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf, who said no final decision had been made.

Harf and other administration officials declined to provide additional information. The CIA declined to comment.

The Russian government offered few details about the program. In a statement, a spokesman for the Russian embassy in Washington, Yevgeniy Khorishko, said that the stations were deployed “only to ensure calibration and precision of signals for the GLONASS system.”

Khorishko referred all questions to Roscosmos, which did not respond to a request for comment last week.

Although the Cold War is long over, the Russians do not want to rely on the US GPS infrastructure because they remain suspicious of the US’ military capabilities, security analysts say. That is why they have insisted on pressing ahead with their own system, despite the high costs.

Accepting the dominance of GPS, Russians fear, would give the US some serious strategic advantages militarily. In Russians’ worst fears, analysts said, Americans could potentially manipulate signals and send erroneous information to Russian armed forces.

Monitor stations are essential to maintaining the accuracy of a GPS, said Bradford Parkinson, a professor emeritus of aeronautics and astronautics at Stanford University, who was the original chief architect of GPS. As a satellite’s orbit slowly diverges from its earlier prediction, these small deviations are measured by the reference stations on the ground and sent to a central control station for updating, he said.

That prediction is sent to the satellite every 12 hours for subsequent broadcast to users. Having monitor stations all around the Earth yields improved accuracy over having them only in one hemisphere.

Washington and Moscow have been discussing for nearly a decade how and when to cooperate on civilian satellite-based navigation signals, particularly to ensure that the systems do not interfere with each other. Indeed, many smartphones and other consumer navigation systems sold in the US today use data from both countries’ satellites.

In May last year, Moscow requested that the US allow the ground-monitoring stations on US soil. US technical and diplomatic officials have met several times to discuss the issue and have asked Russian officials for more information, Harf said.

In the meantime, CIA analysts reviewed the proposal and concluded in a classified report this fall that allowing the Russian monitor stations here would raise counterintelligence and other security issues.

The US State Department does not think that is a strong argument, an administration official said.

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