Senators push military officials for answers to suspected Chinese spy balloon

Published: Feb. 9, 2023 at 4:17 PM CST|Updated: Feb. 9, 2023 at 10:57 PM CST
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WASHINGTON, D.C. (KUMV) - A week ago, Montanans near Billings noticed what appeared to be a balloon flying over the state. With what was a Chinese spy balloon now shot down over the Atlantic, senators are demanding the Biden Administration give some answers to what happened.

On Thursday, the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee met with military officials, looking for answers as to why a suspected Chinese spy balloon was allowed to fly over the United States. Senator Jon Tester, D-MT, pressed them on the purpose of the device.

“Did we know what they were trying to collect? Yes, or no?” Tester asked.

“Yes sir, we understand that this is part of a broader suite of operations that China is undertaking,” said Jedidiah Royal, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs.

While some questions were left unanswered due to the classified nature of the situation, Lieutenant General Douglas Sims II, the director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff explained shooting down the balloon over Montana or Alaska would have posed a bigger risk to people on the ground over the amount of intelligence the Chinese would have gained.

“As the assessment for risk to US personnel outweighed the potential intelligence loss, the recommendation was made to shoot the balloon down over an area that minimized the risk to US citizens,” said Sims II.

Senator John Hoeven, R-ND, expressed concern on how that decision could give countries like Russia or China a chance to test the waters on what can fly through American Airspace.

“So, have we created a situation where our adversaries are going to try to figure out what they can and can’t fly over our airspace? Maybe a balloon, what will they try next,” asked Hoeven.

At the conclusion of the hearing, Tester said that he was not sold on the handling of the espionage episode. Recovery and investigation of the balloon continues on the east coast and could take weeks according to the panel.

Senator Steve Daines, R-MT, attended a security briefing on the balloon this afternoon, saying he was left with more questions than answers. He said that Montanans deserve more answers to the balloon’s intent.