UAE Alleges US Backdoors Found In Its Spy Satellites

Saudi arab UAE spy privacy surveillance © Elnur Shutterstock

The United Arab Emirates has allegedly discovered two US-supplied ‘security compromising components’ in French-provided military satellites

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is reportedly threatening to cancel a 3.4 billion dirhams (£570m) deal to purchase two military imaging satellites from France over claims that two US-supplied components compromise the security of the data transmitted between the satellite and the ground station.

While the US’ National Security Agency (NSA) is not directly named in the matter, the incident, reported by US-based Defense News, recalls concerns over the US spy agency’s allegedly widespread hacking activities, which are claimed to have included mobile and computing devices as well as cloud-based systems.

High-resolution satellites

The satellite deal, signed in July after competition for more than a decade, involves the supply of two high-resolution Pleiades-type Falcon Eye military observation satellites, as well as a ground station and training for 20 engineers, with delivery set for 2018. Airbus Defence and Space is supplying the Astrobus-based satellite platform, with Italian-French joint venture Thales Alenia Space providing the observation and data transmission technology.

Satellite Pleiades space

The technology is based on that of France’s own Pleiades joint civil-military high-resolution Earth-imaging satellites (pictured), the first of which was launched into orbit in 2011, followed by a second in 2012.

The UAE said it discovered that two US-supplied components in the technology supplied by Thales Alenia provided a backdoor into the data transmitted by the satellite, and the discovery was reported to the deputy supreme commander’s office in September, according to the report. The UAE has asked France to change the components and has also “consulted” with Russian and Chinese firms, according to the report’s anonymous source in the UAE, although it isn’t clear what role Russia or China could play in the negotiations.


“If this issue is not resolved, the UAE is willing to scrap the whole deal,” Defense News’ source said.

The incident could also be a ploy to help the UAE get a better deal on the Dassault Aviation Rafale fighter, according to an unnamed Paris-based defence specialist cited by Defense News.

The NSA’s hacking activities have reportedly included intercepting PC shipments to install surveillance backdoors, as well as the use of a catalogue of security vulnerabilities to install backdoors in commercial networking equipment.

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