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US Spy Sea Drone In Namibian Territorial Waters

Sail drones are being used to map the ocean floor and the wide surface area using high-tech sonar systems / iStock. The discovery of a US sp...

Sail drones are being used to map the ocean floor and the wide surface area using high-tech sonar systems / iStock.
The discovery of a US spy sail drone in Namibian territorial waters has sparked concerns over the increasing tendency of US spying activities across the globe, especially targeting the Southern African region. The violation of Namibian territorial waters signified the impunity of the US spying in every corner of the world and countries should be vigilant as US investment in intelligence globally will pose a bigger threat. 

For nearly six months, the Namibian Intelligence Service monitored a sailing drone in Namibian waters near Lüderitz, the security agency spent an extended period collecting important information about the American project and its blueprint. The seacraft was remotely controlled by individuals in the US in collaboration with some partners based in Namibia.

According to the media, it was reported that the Namibian Defence Force (NDF) was also aware of the sailing drone including the tour operator who was also called in for questioning after allegedly being hired by the American handlers to bring the sailing drone off ashore for repairs. Colonel Petrus Shilumbu, the spokesperson for the Namibia Defense Force (NDF), confirmed the incident but declined to provide further details. 

The Namibian security agencies are currently vetting all individuals who may have played a role in compromising Namibia's national security, and the names of those identified have not been released to the public due to the ongoing investigation. Additionally, two South African men, one of whom held Namibian citizenship, were found at their hotel in Namibia after being sent by the American handlers to repair the drone

Sail Drone

A sea drone, also known as a sail drone, is an Unmanned Surface Vessel (USV) that sails like a boat and is specifically designed to gather intelligence, and conduct surveillance, and reconnaissance missions both above and below the sea surface. These vessels provide strategic observations, vehicle tracking, threat detection, and communication remotely, even in harsh conditions. 

Sail drones are powered by a combination of wind and solar energy, which enables them to operate for extended periods without the need to return to shore for refueling. The sail drone has a top sailing speed of 10 knots and can be remotely operated and monitored from any location worldwide via a web-based platform based in the US. 

Capable of sailing over 900,000 nautical miles and spending more than 22,000 days at sea, the sailing drone is designed to collect data that can be used to provide unprecedented intelligence for applications in climate research, mapping, and maritime security.

Saildrone is equipped with various sensors, sonar including cameras and acoustic sensors, that can be used to collect intelligence and monitor the wide array of surface environments. Like any technology, sail drones can be used for both peaceful and potentially malicious purposes to achieve military objectives.

A sail drone code-named 'Explorer' takes part in NATO naval drill in the Persian Gulf on Oct. 7, 2022 / DoD.
The US government has tried to distance itself from reports about the sailing drone, but suspicions still linger. Tiffany Miller, the spokesperson for the US Embassy in Namibia, said in a statement that the US was not involved with the drone. Tiffany further said that the drone was made and operated by Saildrone, a private US company, and contracted for marine research purposes by the University of Gothenburg in Sweden. 

America's National Security Agency (NSA) and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) are known for carrying out many espionage activities around the globe in the guise of scientific research and hiring private institutions and firms to conduct them. Therefore, even if the US embassy has relevant explanations, it cannot dispel everyone's doubts. 

"It's not good if the US doesn't say anything about the matter, but if the US speaks, people don't trust it anymore, which is a very interesting paradox that the US is currently facing in the international community," said Li Haidong, a professor at the Institute of International Relations at China Foreign Affairs University. Therefore, even if the US embassy has relevant explanations, it cannot dispel everyone's doubts, Li said.

Why did the US choose Namibian waters?

Namibia occupies a critical geographical position as a strategic transit route between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, offering a significant advantage in naval warfare, which may have been appealing to the US in its collection of intelligence and spying activities in the Atlantic Ocean. Additionally, as a neighboring state to Africa's economic hub, South Africa is a country that largely falls under the US sphere of political interest.

The US has been increasingly beef-up the spying activities in Southern Africa with the hope of planting puppet regimes and enforcing regime changes in the Sub-Saharan region, which are closely related to its AFRICOM strategy and its approach to countering Russia and China's influence. 

Namibian waters are important because they formed direct corridors between the Indo-Pacific and also act as carriers of the Transatlantic Fiber Optic Cables, which carry an estimated 97% of global communications. However, these undersea cables are considered 'indispensable but insecure' and are vulnerable to sabotage and seabed warfare, especially by the Russian Navy.

In the wake of the US-perpetrated sabotage of the Nord 2 Stream pipeline on September 26, 2022, with the help of NATO allies, there is concern that Russia may retaliate against Western infrastructure, including the West Africa Cable System, which also transverses Namibian waters. This could potentially impact not just internet traffic, but also energy infrastructure, military communications, and Western influence in Africa.

As a result, the US is ramping up efforts to map out the area, including the possible deployment of listening devices and, in extreme cases, sea mines equipped with sensors to detect passing Russian ships or submarines. Knowledge of the Namibian coastal area and the geographical layout of the Atlantic Ocean floor is equally important for military activities related to US seabed warfare

Seabed warfare began in the 1960s with Operation Ivy Bells, carried out by the United States to wiretap Soviet sea routes and undersea infrastructure during the Cold War. The US considers the increasing activities of Russia and China in Southern Africa as a geopolitical threat to its global posture. 

The activities of American adversaries around the Atlantic Ocean, especially the joint naval exercises currently underway in waters off South Africa's east coast, planned between South Africa, Russia, and China, which have been condemned by the West, are another precursor to heightened tensions.

The increasing surveillance of the US around the globe and on African states has raised concerns about the credibility of the US in the international community. Lü Xiang, a research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the US will not admit its spying activities and has called for vigilance in response to the growing trend of US spying activities globally. Spying activities are part of the so-called US strength and posture.

US spying activities across the globe

In addition to these cases, there have been many other reports of US spying activities across the globe. In 2013, former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked classified documents revealing the extent of US global surveillance programs, including the mass collection of internet and phone data. 

The leaks caused an international uproar and strained diplomatic relations between the US and several other countries. The US has also been accused of spying on its allies, including the UK and Australia. In 2020, it was reported that the US was spying on European Union officials and diplomats, which led to condemnations from EU leaders. 

Furthermore, the US has been known to conduct drone strikes and targeted killings in countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and Yemen, which have raised concerns about the legality and morality of such actions. Overall, the US has a long history of global spying activities, and while they are often justified as necessary for national security, they have also caused diplomatic tensions and raised questions about the balance between security and privacy. 

The report by the Qi An Pangu lab suggests that the Telescreen operation conducted by the Equation hacking group under the NSA has targeted 45 countries and regions, including major powers such as China, Russia, the UK, Germany, and the Netherlands. The operation involves a backdoor cyber attack aimed at various sectors, including communication networks, research institutions, and economic and military sectors.

Additionally, the CIA secretly rigged encryption devices manufactured by the Swiss company Crypto AG since the 1970s to eavesdrop on countries around the globe. It is believed that over 120 countries were affected by this operation, with the rigged devices sold to foreign governments and intelligence agencies. These revelations have raised concerns about the US's global spying activities and the extent of their impact on international relations.

However, the US is not the only country engaged in espionage activities. Countries such as China. Isreal and Russia have also been accused of engaging in such activities, with many countries calling for greater international transparency and accountability when it comes to cyber activities.


The incident in Namibia also highlights the importance of vigilance on the part of other countries when it comes to foreign intelligence activities. The fact that the US is still in the leading position in information technology, combined with its increasing investment in the intelligence field, means that other countries are likely to face a greater threat from US spying activities in the future.

While the incident in Namibia may not be the key country for US eavesdropping and spying activities, it does signify an increasing tendency in such activities globally. The US's use of unmanned and stealth technologies in the field has made it a formidable force when it comes to intelligence gathering and surveillance.

As countries around the world continue to grapple with the growing threat of espionage and intelligence-gathering activities, the US has justified its global spying strategy as necessary for national security, but many countries view them as a violation of their sovereignty and an intrusion into their affairs. 

Therefore as such, there is a growing need for international regulation and oversight of such activities to protect the privacy and security of developing countries. The incident in Namibia should serve as a wake-up call to countries around the world to take a closer look at the growing threat of global espionage activities and to take steps to protect national security from such activities.