Discovery of US sail drone in Namibia signifies increase in its espionage activities
Published: Feb 16, 2023 11:59 PM
spy Photo: VCG

Photo: VCG

The discovery of a US sail drone in Namibian territorial waters signified the increasing tendency of US spying in every corner of the world and countries should be vigilant as US investment in intelligence globally will pose a bigger threat, analysts said. Local media outlets reported that the Namibian military confirmed a sail drone had been found in waters near Lüderitz and that it was controlled by the US.

A Namibian tour operator based in the southern coastal town, who was allegedly hired by the American controller of the drone to bring the device ashore for repairs, was called in for questioning by the military, local media outlet Erongo 24/7 reported last week.

Two South African men - one with Namibian citizenship - were found at their hotel last week after it emerged they were sent by the American controller to repair the drone in Namibia. The two men entered the country as "tourists," military sources told the Namibian Sun.

Namibia Defense Force (NDF) spokesperson Colonel Petrus Shilumbu confirmed the incident, but was not willing to share further details. A sail drone is an unmanned sailboat-like craft designed to gather data "in the most remote regions of the ocean and in the harshest conditions," Erongo 24/7 reported.

The US government has tried to distance itself from reports about the sail drone. Tiffany Miller, spokesperson for the US Embassy in Namibia, said in a statement that the US was not involved with the drone.

The statement said that although the drone was made and operated by Saildrone, a private US company, the University of Gothenburg in Sweden had contracted the drone for marine research purposes.

A local media report in Namibia, citing a military source, said it was suspected that the drone had been at sea for six months, especially in western areas of the coast. The NDF accused the tour operator, whose name was withheld due to the ongoing investigation, of "compromising national security."

Although the US Embassy in Namibia said it had nothing to do with the drone, some suspicions still linger. "This shows that the US has no credibility," Li Haidong, a professor at the Institute of International Relations at China Foreign Affairs University, told the Global Times on Thursday.

Many monitoring and investigation activities in the US are carried out in the guise of research by private institutions and firms. Therefore, even if the US embassy has relevant explanations, it cannot dispel everyone's doubts, Li said.

"It's not good if the US doesn't say anything about the matter, but if the US speaks, people don't trust it any more, which is a very interesting paradox that the US is currently facing in the international community," Li noted.

The geographic location of Namibia may have appealed to the US in collecting intelligence and conducting spying activities as it is a strategic pass between the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian Ocean. South Africa is its neighbor to the south. The US has intensified its activities in Southwest Africa, which is closely related to its Indo-Pacific Strategy. The US will not admit its spying activities but the Namibia military will not have groundless doubts, Lü Xiang, research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times.

Namibia is not the key country for US eavesdropping and spying activities, but the spy sail drone found in the African country's waters signified an increasing tendency in US spying activities globally, said Lü.

Lü said that spying activities are part of the so-called US strength and "unmanned" and "stealth" are the key words for its latest technologies in the field. The US spies on other countries, especially when it feels allies are not reliable and rivalries become stronger.

The US is still in the leading position in information technology and its increasing investment in the intelligence field will pose a greater threat to countries around the world, Lü said, while calling for vigilance.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin also told a press conference on Tuesday that the US is the number one country in the world in terms of surveillance.

The Danish media reported that the US National Security Agency (NSA), while partnering with Denmark's foreign intelligence unit, spied on leaders of Germany, Sweden, Norway and France, including former German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Since the 1970s, the CIA has secretly rigged Crypto AG, a Swiss manufacturer of encryption machines to eavesdrop on countries around the globe.

The rigged encryption devices sold to over 120 countries were in fact used by the CIA to eavesdrop on secret communications. According to a report released by the Beijing-based Qi An Pangu lab, the hacking group under the NSA, called Equation, has been running a backdoor cyber attack operation called "Telescreen" against 45 countries and regions, including China, Russia, the UK, Germany and the Netherlands. The operation covers communications, research institutions, and economic and military sectors.