Russian Spy Ship Spotted off Connecticut Coast Heads South

A Russian spy ship spotted off the Connecticut shore Wednesday is now headed south along the East Coast, according to U.S. officials.

The U.S. Navy said yesterday that it was actively monitoring a Russian spy ship that has been operating in international waters along the East Coast of the United States, according to a senior United States official.

Connecticut lawmakers responded yesterday to reports from several news outlets that the ship was “loitering” in the waters off the coast of Connecticut, near the submarine base. 

Groton is also home to Electric Boat, which designs and builds submarines.

“I think that clearly they like to track submarines. We know that they do," Gov. Dannel Malloy said yesterday about the ship's proximity to Groton. "This is not something that is brand new. It’s getting a lot of coverage because, again, I think of other Russian stories related to the Trump administration. They seek to understand how we have the best submarines in the world. And they’re made here.”

The senior U.S. official said the Navy is monitoring the ship on its radar systems. NBC Connecticut has not independently confirmed the reports of the ship being off the shores of Connecticut.

A U.S. defense official told the Associated Press that a Russian intelligence-collection ship has been operating off the East Coast, in international waters.

Lt. Col. Valerie Henderson of the Defense Department released the following statement on the situation.

"We are aware of the vessel's presence. It has not entered U.S. territorial waters. We respect freedom of navigation exercised by all nations beyond the territorial sea of a coastal State consistent with international law."

If the ship is in international waters, it is legal for them to be there, and the action is not unprecedented.

Malloy said Wednesday "the fact that we know that it's there is probably a good thing and I suspect that we have some of our ships in delicate places as well."

"I think it’s getting a lot of coverage because of the President’s changed policy towards Russia, which is very different than has been sustained by other administrations. It’s not that we shouldn’t be talking to the Russians, but we shouldn’t necessarily be embracing everything they are doing. And quite frankly, now that we understand that they have recently been active in our own elections, we should be wary of that. But that there are spy ships in the world – we shouldn’t be surprised,” Malloy said.

The reports that the ship is near the submarine base in Groton also brought a response from many Connecticut congressional representatives, who by and large called the action aggressive and concerning.

NBC Connecticut reached out to officials at the base, who said they don’t have a comment and referred inquiries to the U.S. Department of Defense. Officials from the DOD have not yet responded.

The White House didn't respond to a request for comment.

U.S. Senator Chris Murphy’s office said that this is not “unprecedented,” but the senator is concerned this is “part of a pattern of continued Russian ‘boldness.’”

“Russia is acting like it has a permission slip to expand influence, test limits of reach,” Murphy tweeted. “Questions are obvious: does it, and if so, why?” 

"While this is not wholly unprecedented, it’s part of a series of aggressive actions by Russia that threaten U.S. national security and the security of our allies," Murphy said in a statement. "Just yesterday, news broke that Russia violated an Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. Coupled with escalating fighting in eastern Ukraine and Russian jets buzzing a U.S. Navy destroyer in the Black Sea, Putin clearly thinks the Trump administration has given him a permission slip to flex his muscles. President Trump and his administration must end their silence and immediately respond to these threats to our national security.”

U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal said in a statement that the presence of the spy ship "has to be regarded very seriously because Russia is an increasingly aggressive adversary."

"It reflects a clear need to harden our defenses against electronic surveillance and cyber espionage. I am personally monitoring this situation and remain in close contact with both the Department of Defense and the U.S. Coast Guard," Blumenthal said in the statement. "The return of a Russian vessel is particularly concerning in the context of escalating Russian aggression - within days of the Russian's buzzing a U.S. Navy ship in the Black Sea, as well as deploying a cruise missile in violation of our arms control treaty - which only underscores the need for an independent investigation into possible collusion between the Trump administration and Russian agents."

U.S. Rep. Jim Himes issued a statement saying residents should know that the presence of the ship does not present "a direct threat to our physical safety."

"Its appearance is troubling, however, viewed in conjunction with the ongoing stories of Russian ties and interference in the Trump Administration and the recent deployment of a Russian cruise missile in apparent violation of international agreements," Himes said in a statement. "In my opinion, Russia is making a show of strength and pushing established boundaries and norms to gauge the reaction of a new administration in disarray.”

U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro tweeted that “Russia is flexing its muscles.”

U.S. Rep. John Larson responded to the reports with a tweet as well.

"This is a stark reminder of why we need a full account of Russia's influence in the White House & meddling in our election," Larson tweeted.

U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney also responded to the reports in a statement.

“A Russian spy ship patrolling 30 miles from the Groton SUBASE underscores that the threats posed by a resurgent Russia are real,” Courtney wrote. “This unacceptable, aggressive action, combined with the buzzing of US Navy ships in the Red Sea yesterday are clearly testing the resolve of a new administration. While I have total confidence in our Navy’s vigilant, responsible readiness, the White House needs to move past their seeming infatuation with Putin and treat him like the serious threat to global peace and security that he has been for the last five years.”

Courtney also made a speech on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives about this ship.

U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty also responded with a statement.

“Russia’s escalating aggression is a serious national security threat," Esty wrote. "Yet again, the Kremlin is testing the resolve of the Trump administration. It is long past time for the White House to stop making excuses for Vladimir Putin and respond to his acts of thuggery with the toughness our security demands.”

US officials said Thursday that the ship headed south. Its current location and destination are unknown.

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