Joe Biden said Elon Musk’s links to foreign countries are “worthy of being looked at”, in response to a question about whether Washington had national security concerns around the world’s richest man.
“I think that Elon Musk’s co-operation and/or technical relationships with other countries is worthy of being looked at,” Biden told reporters on Wednesday, without elaborating on further details. The US president added he was not “suggesting . . . whether or not [Musk] is doing anything inappropriate”.
Biden’s comments raise fresh questions about the possibility of government scrutiny on Musk’s dealings less than two weeks after the Tesla boss closed the $44bn Twitter deal, one of the most high-profile and volatile acquisitions in recent times.
They come after media reports last month that US officials were debating whether they had any legal avenue to review Musk’s activities, including the Twitter deal and SpaceX’s Starlink terminals, on national security grounds. The White House denied those reports were true.
Musk has been caught up in a separate controversy over the Starlink terminals, made by his privately held company SpaceX, which were transferred to Ukraine to provide internet to the population and the military amid Russia’s invasion. After initially receiving praise from Kyiv, the billionaire upset Ukrainians when he proposed on Twitter Crimea be ceded to Russia as part of a peace deal with Moscow.
Last month, Musk complained that the Ukraine service was costing SpaceX nearly $20mn a month before abruptly announcing he would pay for the support “indefinitely”.
The Financial Times in October reported some Starlink devices suffered outages in areas that had been freed from Russian occupation, raising questions about whether the company had stopped the service. Some devices ultimately came back online.
Some US lawmakers have expressed concerns about countries that backed Musk’s Twitter buyout. Chris Murphy, a Democratic US senator from Connecticut, last week requested the Committee on Foreign Investment in the US, an inter-agency panel that reviews inbound investments for security risks and is led by Treasury, probe the Twitter transaction.
In a letter to Treasury secretary Janet Yellen, Murphy said financing provided by members of the Saudi royal family and the kingdom of Qatar would translate into a roughly 5 per cent stake collectively in the now privately held Twitter.
“Given Twitter’s critical role in public communication, I am concerned by the potential influence of the government of Saudi Arabia,” he wrote.
“Setting aside the vast stores of data that Twitter has collected on American citizens, any potential that Twitter’s foreign ownership will result in increased censorship, misinformation, or political violence is a grave national security concern,” Murphy said.
The Treasury and Musk did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Biden’s statement.
Additional reporting by James Politi and Hannah Murphy