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Lawmakers question national security officials on China's spy balloon

Susan Collins
Posted at 6:21 PM, Feb 09, 2023

Lawmakers questioned senior U.S. Department of Defense officials Thursday as they investigate a Chinese spy balloon that traveled across the United States this month.

The balloon, which the Pentagon says was shot down by an F-22 Raptor fighter jet using a Sidewinder missile, was recovered by the U.S. Fleet Forces Command off the coast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina on Feb. 5.

China says it was just a civilian weather balloon that accidentally traveled off course and over the United States.

The general responsible for bringing down the latest detected ballon said on Mondaythat the United States military had not detected past spy balloons before the latest one detected on Jan. 28.

The Intercept reported that the technique is nothing new, and said the the United States sent spy balloons of the same size over both the Soviet Union and China in 1956.

U.S. Senator Susan Collins, who is a ranking member on the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, questioned senior U.S. Department of Defense officials about the high-altitude surveillance balloon saying that “This was not a harmless weather balloon somehow blown wildly off course as the Chinese have claimed.”

Sen. Collins was quoted in a release from her office as saying, “This incident highlights the ongoing and increasingly blatant threat to the United States posed by the People’s Republic of China, which is the pacing threat not just for today, but for the foreseeable future. Ultimately, our Subcommittee is responsible for making sure that the Department of Defense has the resources needed to keep America safe.”

Lawmakers have questioned why President Joe Biden said he heeded military advice to wait until shooting down the balloon. Biden says it was to avoid harming civilian areas with debris.

Lieutenant General Douglas Sims, the Director for Operations of the Joint Staff said, “The key piece here, I think, ma'am, is there was no hostile act or hostile intent. That would be the first.” 

Sims said, “There was no impact to aviation routes, which would be another piece of that. The other would be there was no, at the time, there was no suspected impact, a critical intelligence gathering ability in terms of infrastructure. That changed as the balloon made, as its path continued, that change. And that's what prompted a different decision, or a different conversation as it crossed into the United States.”