Iran's satellite internet is the next country the Biden administration looks to after Ukraine

Elon Musk and the White House have discussed the idea of installing SpaceX's Starlink satellite internet service inside Iran.

The Biden administration is looking for ways to support the Iranian protest movement that erupted just over a month ago after Mahsa Amini, 22, died inexplicably after being detained by the nation's morality police. The conversations, which have not previously been reported, are taking place at this time.

The strong attempts by the Iranian regime to censor activists' access to the internet and communication are seen by the White House as having possible solutions.

If a plan is implemented, Ukraine would become the second significant region this year where the US government has requested assistance from Starlink to help supply essential communications services, despite concerns about Musk's dependability in his interactions with the US government.

A senior US defense source aware of the government's contacts with Musk and SpaceX over Ukraine said of him, "He's a loose cannon we can never anticipate."

last week that Musk's business, SpaceX, had been discreetly requesting the Pentagon to pay tens of millions of dollars each month to support Starlink in Ukraine and relieve SpaceX of the cost, worries about Musk's erratic tendencies increased. Musk then quickly said on Twitter that he has withdrawn the fundraising request in reaction to that story.

showing SpaceX notifying the Pentagon last month it could no longer pay or support Starlink in Ukraine "for an indeterminate length of time," the Pentagon stated this week that conversations with SpaceX over Ukraine are ongoing.

SpaceX claims that providing Starlink services in Ukraine has cost it $80 million so far and that by the end of the year costs will exceed $100 million.

A solution or risk for Iranian activists?

The needs of Iranian protesters and Ukrainian soldiers, and how they would use Starlink, are wildly different. And experts warn that while Starlink in Ukraine has been critical to battlefield successes, getting Starlink into Iran would be a much bigger and potentially more dangerous challenge.

The White House's pursuit of Starlink, which employs satellites to beam internet access to small terminals on the ground, does not appear to have been discouraged by the situation with Starlink and Ukraine. Approximately 3,000 of these satellites are now in orbit, and there are about 20,000 terminals throughout Ukraine.

Unlike his former boss, President Barack Obama, who mostly chose to keep out of an Iranian protest movement that arose in 2009, President Joe Biden had wished to be brasher and outwardly supportive of the demonstrators in Iran. In a statement on October 3, Biden stated that his government is working to make it simpler for Iranians to use the internet and "stands with Iranian women and all residents of Iran who are impressing the world with their fortitude."

The senior administration official stated, "We are interested in finding ways to ensure that the Iranian people may have access to the internet on their phones and wherever else. Therefore, while Starlink is a choice, it is not the only one.

It is unclear if the administration has volunteered to foot the bill for the installation of the Starlink terminals in Iran. SpaceX requested that the Pentagon take over funding for Ukraine's government and military use of Starlink in a letter it sent to the Pentagon in September. SpaceX claimed that this would cost more than $120 million for the remainder of the year and could cost as much as $400 million for the following 12 months.

Some US officials believe that satellite TV dishes may one day be as common in Iran as Starlink's on-the-ground terminals. Even though the dictatorship formally forbids it, the sources highlighted that this technology is widely used throughout the nation. According to Musk's tweet from last week, "very few" Starlink terminals are now in use in Iran.

But there are a number of obvious problems with such a strategy. The need for actual terminals on the ground to connect to Starlink's satellites and the possibility of simple detection of their signals are two of the main drawbacks. The devices would theoretically be used by disorderly demonstrators under the strict supervision of Iran's security agencies, but getting them into Iran is only the first hurdle.

Amir Rashidi, the director of internet security and digital rights at Milan Group, who was compelled to leave Iran following the demonstrations in 2009, said: "I'm particularly concerned that there is a lack of awareness about the security or even training how individuals may disguise those signals." "Users in Iran will have to take a lot of risks if they use it wisely."

More instructional materials in Farsi, according to Rashidi, are required to provide demonstrators the knowledge they need to utilize technology securely and mask their traces. He contends that additional funding is required for the International Telecommunication Union of the UN's operations and circumvention technologies.

Efforts supported by the US, he claimed, are at great risk.

"The first allegation is you're a spy, you're working for CIA, you're working for a British intelligence outfit," he claimed. "As soon as we are detained." "If the US government is engaged in distribution, that would be considered another crime in the eyes of the Iranian Government, and people may be charged with it,"

Why didn't we realize this earlier?

Although the administration believes it can make a difference by supporting protestors' communication methods, it is criticized for taking so long to take this issue seriously.

According to the senior administration source, the JCPOA is "not on the agenda" at the moment. John Kirby, the coordinator for strategic communications at the National Security Council, reaffirmed it to reporters on Thursday, saying that "we are far apart with the Iranians in terms of a return to the deal."

Making sure we are holding the government responsible for how they are handling demonstrators across the nation is what we are concentrating on, he added.

However, the major problems with Starlink and other communications technologies are still being worked on by the White House, government technologists, Musk, and his team, according to authorities.

Without delving into particular technologies, the senior administration official said, "When it comes to more active USG engagement, we're constantly examining whether a technology would put folks who utilize it in danger of being recognized and damaged by their government in some way." "On that, the Biden administration as a whole is unanimous."

In a move to provide Iranians with access to the internet, the Biden administration changed its stance last month, which the official also praised for its advantages. The Treasury Department's license would provide US technology businesses more latitude to operate in Iran, which is subject to severe sanctions.

The official said that one of the best things about General License D-2 is that it gives private businesses the freedom to select the goods and services they wish to provide to Iranian consumers.

Concerned about Musk's unpredictable stance on Ukraine

Musk has claimed that SpaceX has already turned on the signal if the terminals can reach Iran. However, his behavior in the debates around Ukraine has only raised further questions about the considerable impact the world's richest man may now have over some of the largest wars in history.

To heck with it...even if Starlink is still losing money & other firms are collecting billions of taxpayer dollars, we'll simply keep supporting the Ukraine government for free, Musk tweeted last weekend. Then on Monday, he made it quite clear that "SpaceX has already withdrawn their financing request."

The Pentagon has not yet paid for Starlink, according to Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, the department's press secretary, also said earlier this week that the government "does continue to discuss different topics with SpaceX, including Starlink."

As Ukraine has advanced into Russian-occupied territory, there have been several reports of Starlink disruptions along the frontline. According to a source involved with the conversations with SpaceX, Ukraine had to proactively request that service be switched on when a territory was reclaimed.

Oleksiy Reznikov, the defense minister of Ukraine, told Politico on Thursday that he was certain that Starlink will continue to receive money and added, "I know we will not have a problem." He asserted that he anticipates the Pentagon, Europe, and private contributors to step up if SpaceX is unable to provide the cash.

Musk has cited the public endorsement of SpaceX and Starlink by Ukrainian authorities as proof that he is not working to weaken the Ukrainians' cause. One senior Ukrainian official, Mykhailo Fedorov, referred to Musk as "among the world's top private philanthropists backing Ukraine."

On Tuesday, someone tweeted that Musk was pursuing "Peace at the least cost" by "trying to raise all sides of the issue to the same level as possible, in order to avoid a one-sided situation." Musk replied, "Exactly."

Concerns continue to exist over Ukraine's reliance on Starlink.

According to a person familiar with the conversations between Ukraine and SpaceX, "Ukraine needs Musk's technology, but they are unsure of his commitment to continuing to back them."

The success of Starlink in Ukraine was hailed as "great marketing" by John Scott-Railton, a researcher and authority on connectivity in conflicts, but the challenge of supporting the protesters' communication channels in Iran "is a huge challenge, and it's much harder to see how it could be addressed by Starlink devices."

"Helping efforts should be based on knowledge of Iranians' communication practices, dangers they confront, and censorship-circumvention tools they have used in the past. We ought to be involved, but we should be skeptical of quick fixes.

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