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House Intel chair's cryptic warning about "serious national security threat" prompts officials to urge calm

Russian rocket poses "serious" threat, U.S. says
House intelligence chair warns of "serious national security threat" 02:04

Washington — The head of the House Intelligence Committee disclosed Wednesday that members of Congress had access to information about an unspecified "serious national security threat," issuing a vague warning that prompted other lawmakers to downplay the urgency of the situation and urge the public to remain calm.

The revelation from Rep. Mike Turner, an Ohio Republican and the chairman of the House Intelligence panel, came in a cryptic statement issued by the committee, in which he encouraged President Biden to declassify all information relating to the threat. It did not contain any details, except to announce that the committee "has made available to all members of Congress information concerning a serious national security threat." 

"I am requesting that President Biden declassify all information relating to this threat so that Congress, the Administration, and our allies can openly discuss the actions necessary to respond to this threat," Turner said.

One U.S. official told CBS News that the intelligence in question relates to Russian capabilities in space. 

U.S. officials told CBS News that Russia is developing a nuclear-capable weapon that could take down U.S. satellites, knocking out the ability to communicate, but there is no evidence a weapon has actually been deployed. 

The threat described does not involve an active capability, though the issue is considered significant. 

A U.S. official, who was not authorized to discuss the information publicly, pointed to a series of Russian space launches known as Cosmos, many of which carry classified Ministry of Defense payloads. 

Republican Rep. Mike Turner of Ohio at a press conference at the Capitol on Dec. 14, 2022.
Republican Rep. Mike Turner of Ohio at a press conference at the Capitol on Dec. 14, 2022. Nathan Posner/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Lawmakers were seen entering and exiting a secure facility on Capitol Hill following Turner's statement. Rep. Jason Crow, a Democrat from Colorado who sits on the Intelligence panel, told reporters after leaving the secure room that "this is something that requires our attention, there's no doubt. It's not an immediate crisis but certainly something we have to be very serious about."

Rep. Jim Himes of Connecticut, the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, told reporters that "people should not panic."

"It's a serious issue that [Turner] is right to focus on, but no, it's not going to ruin your … Wednesday," he said. 

Himes added that it's an issue Congress and the Biden administration need to address "in the medium-to-long run."

In a statement, the Connecticut Democrat said a discussion about whether more can be declassified is "worthwhile," but not one that should be held in public.

House Speaker Mike Johnson echoed Himes' comments, saying Congress would work to address the matter.

 "We just want to assure everyone, steady hands are at the wheel. We're working on it and there's no need for alarm," he said.

The Senate Intelligence Committee also has the intelligence referenced by Turner, and its leaders, chairman Mark Warner and vice chairman Marco Rubio, said they have been "rigorously tracking this issue from the start." The two senators are discussing with the Biden administration an "appropriate response," they said.

"In the meantime, we must be cautious about potentially disclosing sources and methods that may be key to preserving a range of options for U.S. action," Warner, a Virginia Democrat, and Rubio, and Florida Republican, said.

Asked about Turner's statement, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters that he reached out to the so-called "Gang of Eight" — the Democratic and Republican leaders of the House and Senate, and chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees — earlier this week to offer a personal briefing. Sullivan said a briefing for the House members within the group — Turner, Himes, Johnson and Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries — has been scheduled for Thursday.

"I'm a bit surprised that Congressman Turner came out publicly today in advance of a meeting on the books for me to go sit with him alongside our intelligence and defense professionals tomorrow," Sullivan said during the White House press briefing. "I'm not in a position to say anything further today."

Sullivan later told a reporter that he could say with confidence that the Biden administration is "protecting the national security of the United States and the American people."

"Americans understand that there are a range of threats and challenges in the world that we're dealing with every single day, and those threats and challenges range from terrorism to state actors," he said. "And we have to contend with them and we have to contend with them in a way where we ensure the ultimate security of the American people. I am confident that President Biden, in the decisions that he is taking, is going to ensure the security of the American people going forward."

For its part, Moscow on Thursday dismissed the reports.

Agency France-Presse said the state-run TASS news agency quoted Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov as claiming the White House was trying "any way it can" to get the House of Representatives to vote on a stalled bill providing U.S. aid to Ukraine.

"It's obvious. Let's see what tricks, so to speak, the White House is going to pull," he was quoted as saying.

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Washington should provide evidence of the claims.

"It fits the trend over the last decade of the Americans engaging in malicious fantasizing, attributing all sorts of actions or intentions to us that don't suit them," TASS cited Ryabkov as saying, according to AFP.

— Olivia Gazis, Kristin Brown, Ellis Kim, Eleanor Watson and Brian Dakss contributed reporting.

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