FCC Urged to Investigate SpaceX Amid Allegations of Musk's Role in Ukraine-Russia Conflict

The FCC is being urged to review SpaceX's spectrum license status due to claims owner Elon Musk is engaging in misconduct.

FCC Urged to Investigate SpaceX Amid Allegations of Musk's Role in Ukraine-Russia Conflict
Photo of Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX and Tesla, by Daniel Oberhaus

WASHINGTON, April 24, 2024 – A Ukrainian-American organization is demanding an immediate investigation into the conduct of SpaceX's founder and primary shareholder Elon Musk to determine if the company's federal spectrum license status should be revoked.

The Ukrainian Congress Committee of America alleges in a filing to the Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday that Musk has used the company’s federal spectrum licenses to meddle in the Ukraine-Russia war, saying Musk is actively working to thwart U.S. foreign policy. 

The nonprofit group is calling on the FCC to evaluate whether limitations ought to be placed on Musk's control, oversight, or involvement in Starlink, a SpaceX subsidiary that seeks to provide worldwide broadband through satellites in low earth orbit.

These concerns were raised in response to SpaceX's request to allow new entrants into the 1.6/2.4 GigaHertz (GHz) band, which was submitted on February 21.

In its filing, UCCA cites a Reuters report of Musk admitting he rejected a request from the Ukrainian Armed Forces to activate his Starlink satellite network in Sevastopol, Crimea's port city, to aid in an attack on Russia's fleet.

Despite warnings from U.S. senators to stop interfering on the side of Russia, Musk has now made the Starlink system available to the Russian military, the Wall Street Journal reports.

UCCA alleges Musk is not only making decisions concerning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but is also engaging with China in ways that frequently contradict U.S. foreign policy. A recent accusation against Musk alleges he is withholding SpaceX’s satellite internet service in Taiwan.

In a letter to Musk in February, Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wisconsin, has said SpaceX’s withholding of services in and around Taiwan could possibly be a “breach of SpaceX’s contractual obligations with the U.S. government.”

As FCC licensees have the basic statutory duty to conduct operations in the public interest, UCCA alleges Musk’s “erratic behavior, penchant for conspiracy theories, and chronic use of illegal drugs” raise serious doubts about his suitability as a licensee.

The FCC considers illegal drug use by license holders, whether on or off station premises, as a significant concern. The commission has historically denied renewal applications when a licensee has demonstrated an inability or unwillingness to cease drug use.

This includes a 1990 case against Williamsburg County Broadcasting in which the licensee was denied renewal due to egregious conduct related to drug conviction.

The group cites WSJ reports detailing Musk's admission of daily ketamine use on his social media platforms along with use of other mind-altering substances, including LSD, cocaine, ecstasy, marijuana and psychedelic mushrooms, saying this pattern of behavior directly calls into question his ability to fulfill the fundamental duty of FCC license holders. Other members of SpaceX’s team, including board member Steve Jurvetson, have also been reported using substances. 

In a 1995 case, the FCC outlined several key factors it takes into account when evaluating license renewal applications related to misconduct. These factors include “the willfulness, frequency and currency of the misconduct; the seriousness of the misconduct; the nature of participation of managers and owners; the efforts made to remedy the wrong; the applicant's record of compliance with the commission's rules and policies; and rehabilitation.”

The aforementioned case involved a licensee who was initially denied renewal due to a conviction for possessing marijuana with the intent to redistribute. However, the FCC approved the renewal of the K33CG license anyway. This decision hinged on the licensee's unblemished broadcast record and “good reputation for truthfulness in the community.

“His wrongdoing, while serious, did not involve the station, did not include preying on others, and was not considered serious enough by the District Court to warrant a recommendation that any federal benefits be denied,” the commission ruled. 

In the case of Musk, UCCA maintains, “when the controlling shareholder is acting erratically, believes he has the authority to set U.S. foreign policy and admits to taking drugs including taking drugs with board members and officers, it is reasonable to conclude that Musk and his management team lack the basic competence to remain FCC licensees.

“The FCC needs to hold a hearing to determine if Musk is qualified to remain an FCC licensee,” the group states. “While revocation of his licenses is clearly a possibility, the FCC can fashion other remedies such as a forfeiture, or requiring Musk to place his Starlink shares in the hands of a competent trustee.”

SpaceX did not respond to a request for comment by the provided deadline.

The Ukrainian Congress Committee of America advocates for the concerns of around two million Americans of Ukrainian heritage, operating as a nonprofit, nonpartisan community-focused entity, with volunteer-driven local chapters spread throughout the United States.

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