Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) said on CNN’s “State of the Union” the President Joe Biden not addressing the nation about the Chinese balloon was “the beginning of dereliction of duty.”
Host Jake Tapper said, “Your colleague and friend Republican Tim Scott of South Carolina accused President Biden of, quote, ‘dereliction of duty by allowing the Chinese spy balloon to fly across the U.S.’ That’s a pretty strong accusation. Do you agree with it?”
Rubio said, “Well, I think the dereliction of duty begins with this. Why not Tuesday or Wednesday — you know people are going to see it. At some point, you know you are going to have to disclose this, but they didn’t want to. They didn’t want to have their hand forced on canceling the Blinken’s visit, so they didn’t want to have to talk about it. Why didn’t the president go on television and basically explain what we’re dealing with here and why he’s made the decisions he’s making, and what they intend to do? Once they went public with it, knowing the amount of interest this was going to generate, presidents have the ability to go before a camera, go before the nation and basically explain these things early on. His failure to do so, I don’t understand that. I don’t understand why he wouldn’t do that. That is the beginning of dereliction of duty.”
He added, “The second is, you have to act swiftly on these things. I think that’s part of one of the things the Chinese are trying to message, and that is the U.S. had to see this coming and decided they couldn’t or wouldn’t do anything about it early on and had to wait until this thing went across the middle of the country. What are we going to do the next time? Allow it to fly through again and shoot it down once it gets to the East Coast? These are questions the White House needs to answer. I don’t think these are partisan claims I’m making. I think there would be broad agreement that we need to know moving forward what our policy will be.”
“What did the president know, and when did he know it?”
That was the question asked of Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal of the 1970s.The presumption, of course, was that the 37th president knew more about the scandalous activities than he was letting on.And, of course, Nixon was ultimately forced out of office because of Watergate.
Today, I’d like to ask the same question of Joe Biden about the China Spy Balloon-gate scandal. Of course, the matter of the Chinese spy balloon is lot more serious than the Watergate break-in because it potentially affects the safety and well-being of 335 million Americans.
Yes, President Biden finally oversaw the shoot-down of the spy balloon on Saturday, but only after it had spent days floating over the United States’ landmass from Alaska to South Carolina. Is that the right way to handle an intrusion from a rival — even adversarial — superpower? Should we allow their surveillance machines to traverse our country and only deal with them after they’ve finished their American tour?
Important questions need answers.So, without further ado, here are ten questions for the 46th president:
1. Mr. President, Bloomberg News reports that your administration first knew about about the balloon on January 28.And yet the public didn’t become aware of it until six days later, on February 2, when The Billings Gazette published amateur video of the balloon in the sky.Only then did it became big international news.Why the lag in awareness?Was this a cover-up? And is it true, as Bloomberg News suggests, that your administration sat on the balloon news so as not to disrupt Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s trip to Beijing, which has now been postponed?As Bloomberg puts it, “with such a high-profile trip at stake, keeping it on the down-low was key.”Is that how your team saw the balloon incident?As a story to be kept on the “down-low”?And if so, why?The Chinese knew about the balloon—why shouldn’t Americans?
The China spy balloon flying over Billings, Montana, on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023. (Larry Mayer/The Billings Gazette via AP)
2. We know that liberals often pride themselves on preferring negotiation to confrontation. And of course, your senior climate envoy, John Kerry, has argued that the most important global issue is engaging with China on climate change. Indeed, you yourself have used the phrase “existential threat” many times in regard to climate change — a stark phrase that you have never used about China. So, has your administration’s desire to work with China on the “existential threat” of climate change affected your stance on the spy balloon? Did these concerns — as you define it, the fate of the planet — give you any feeling that you should slow down your reaction to this Chinese aggression? Might that explain why you let the spy balloon exist over American airspace for a week?
3. Donald Trump said, “shoot down the balloon.” Interestingly, your fellow Democrat Leon Panetta, who served as secretary of defense alongside you in the Obama administration, has said the same thing.Were Trump and Panetta correct? Could it be said that you were following their lead?
4. Bloomberg News also reports, “In an effort to keep things calm, administration officials stressed this was not the first such incident and that similar activities had been observed over the past several years, including during the prior administration.” What, precisely, is being said here?Are your anonymous briefers to the media saying that an earlier balloon flew over the United States and the Trump administration did nothing? That’s quite an assertion! Would your people affirm that statementunder oath in testimony before Congress?
5. As a follow-up, Chad Wolf, the former acting secretary of Homeland Security in the Trump administration, declared, “Bottom line, a Chinese spy balloon would NEVER happen under an America First admin.”Is Wolf wrong?Is he misinformed about his own administration?
6. If it is the case that Chinese surveillance balloons have flown over, or even near, the United States prior to your administration, could you please outline the security policies that you put in place once you took office and had this knowledge? Were these policies followed in the case of this particular spy balloon?Is it the policy, for example, to let the balloon enter American airspace and fly all the way across the country before taking any action? And on Saturday afternoon, you indicated that you had given orders back on February 1 to shoot down the balloon when it was over water as opposed to land. That declaration would seem to suggest the existence of a substantial paper trail of your executive decision-making. Would you be willing to open all those deliberations to the relevant Congressional oversight committees? And perhaps to the public as well?
President Joe Biden boards Air Force One on Jan. 19, 2023. (AP Photo/Jess Rapfogel)
And as a follow-up, sir, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL) has declared, “It’s clear the Biden administration had hoped to hide this national security failure from Congress and the American people.” He is suggesting that you only chose to shoot down the spy balloon after its existence became known. Is Rep. Rogers wrong? If so, are you willing to release the documents to bolster your assertion that he’s wrong? Surely such full disclosure would be the best way to convince the public that you didn’t simply bow to pressure once the balloon’s intrusion became known.
7. Bloomberg News further notes, in a story credited to a total of six of its reporters, “The Biden administration knew it had to exercise extreme caution especially in what was a heated political environment ahead of 2024 elections, with Republicans agitating on which party could strike a harder or tougher line on China.”Is this how you see the Chinese spy balloon issue?As a political matter?As a source of potential vulnerability in your possible re-election campaign? If so, has concern over 2024 affected your actions on the spy balloon?
8. Has the $54.6 million in donations from sources in China that poured into your “think tank,” the Penn Biden Center, affected your thinking on China at all?Or the thinking of your Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who was the former managing director of the Penn Biden Center when it raked in all that cash from Communist China?And is there anything you want to tell us about the influence of your son Hunter Biden’s many and variousChinesebusinesspartners? In fact, do you have anything at all you would like to tell us about the $31 million that members of your family scored in five business deals with individuals who have direct ties to the highest levels of the Chinese intelligence apparatus?
(PennBiden/Facebook, Nicolas Asfouri/Getty Images; BNN Edit)
Chinese Communist Party Leader Xi Jinping shake hands with U.S. President Joe Biden at the G20 summit on Nov. 14, 2022, in Bali, Indonesia. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
9. We now see reports of a second Chinese spy balloon flying over South America.What will the U.S. do if this balloon also enters American airspace? Or do you plan to stop it this time before it enters American airspace? Will you, and how will you, communicate to China that this is unacceptable in all cases at all times? Will you enunciate an overall policy on such incursions?
10. It has been reported that the Chinese spy balloon deliberately avoided Russian airspace, which suggests that the People’s Republic of China had tight control over the spy balloon and used that control to avoid doing anything to upset the Russians.Why do you think the Chinese chose to treatAmerica differently?And speaking of Russia, what will the U.S. do if the Russians send over a spy balloon?Or the North Koreans? Or the Iranians? Will you let such spy balloons to fly over the nation first and only then shoot them down? What if it’s some other kind of aircraft or spacecraft? And what new defense systems might we need to deal with this threat?
So, those are my ten questions on the spy balloon.Thanks in advance, Mr. President, for your full and complete answers!
Oh, and one last thing, sir.
You were in the U.S. Senate during the Watergate scandal, so you no doubt remember the famous question, “What did the president know, and when did he know it?”
In that same spirit, I’d like to ask you about all the classified documents that keep popping up in the Penn Biden Center, your home, and elsewhere. And sir, with all due respect, if you don’t mind, I’d like to have your answers under oath.
The Biden administration was aware of the Chinese spy balloon entering United States airspace on January 28 but tried to hide its existence from the American people until being forced to go public, according to a report on Saturday.
Bloomberg News reported that the Biden administration was “well aware” that the balloon had entered U.S. airspace on Saturday, January 28, but decided to keep quiet about it so as not to ruin a planned trip by Secretary of State Antony Blinken to China.
As it turns out, US authorities were well aware of the unidentified object that had entered American airspace on Jan. 28, that had then left and re-entered over North Idaho on Tuesday. But with such a high-profile trip at stake, keeping it on the down-low was key.
However, on Wednesday, February 1, a Billings, Montana, resident spotted the balloon around 5:30 p.m. local time, and the next day, a local Montana paper published a report about it. Later that day, late Thursday afternoon, the Pentagon finally confirmed the existence of the balloon.
Not gonna lie. First, I thought this was a #ufo. Then, I thought it was @elonmusk in a Wizard of Oz cosplay scenario. But it was just a run-of-the mill Chinese spy balloon! pic.twitter.com/cBV7goF6Sv
Officials who spoke to Bloomberg News claimed by that time it “became visible in Montana,” President Joe Biden had already been briefed on the balloon and the White House was “scrambling to decide whether to blast it from the sky” — despite five days of monitoring it.
According to Bloomberg News, the Biden administration considered the political implications of dealing with the spy balloon, which floated near the Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana, home to intercontinental ballistic missile silos. The outlet reported:
The Biden administration knew it had to exercise extreme caution especially in what was a heated political environment ahead of 2024 elections, with Republicans agitating on which party could strike a harder or tougher line on China.
Bloomberg News reported that Biden had “argued for shooting the object down, but was urged against doing so by his most senior military advisers, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley — who reportedly “insisted that such a move would put civilians at risk.”
“For now, the White House opted not to inform the American public. Events, however, soon forced Biden’s hand,” the outlet reported, referring to the local news report by the Billings Gazette, which had published a photo of the balloon.
“The pace of discussions in the White House quickened,” Bloomberg News reported. “In a call starting at 5:15 p.m. on Thursday, the administration finally went public.”
The Pentagon briefed reporters on a background conference call, and said there was consideration of shooting down the balloon as it transited over sparsely populated areas in Montana, but that they “just couldn’t buy down the risk enough to feel comfortable recommending shooting it down yesterday.”
Blinken finally canceled his planned trip to China on Thursday, six days after the balloon first entered U.S. airspace.
Bloomberg News reported that the administration spent “hours” debating whether Blinken should do so, and “finally felt they had no choice.” However, officials told the outlet that it was a postponement, not a cancellation, so as to send a “signal” that the U.S. had no desire to escalate matters.
The sentiment was that the trip was not worth the “potential domestic political costs of going, given that Blinken’s talks in China were not expected to yield much in the first place.”
In addition, the outlet reported, “Biden’s team worried that the incident would serve as more fodder for Republicans who believed the administration is weak on China, especially if the balloon crashed and hurt someone while Blinken was in Beijing.”
After going public, the administration then had to brief the “Gang of Eight” — the top leaders of the House and Senate, as well as the leaders of the House and Senate intelligence committees, Bloomberg News reported.
Even top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) has indirectly criticized the administration’s inaction. “There’s no way the CCP would allow a balloon like this to fly over the Chinese heartland,” he tweeted Friday. “China’s aggressive behavior is a violation of international norms and shows a reckless disregard for the safety of American citizens.”
There’s no way the CCP would allow a balloon like this to fly over the Chinese heartland. China’s aggressive behavior is a violation of international norms and shows a reckless disregard for the safety of American citizens.
The Pentagon announced Saturday afternoon that it had shot down the balloon as it reached the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of South Carolina.
@RealUSC via Storyful
Biden claimed he had ordered the Pentagon on Wednesday to shoot down the balloon when it was safe to do so.
Austin released a statement that reiterated that point.
“On Wednesday, President Biden gave his authorization to take down the surveillance balloon as soon as the mission could be accomplished without undue risk to American lives under the balloon’s path. After careful analysis, U.S. military commanders had determined downing the balloon while over land posed an undue risk to people across a wide area due to the size and altitude of the balloon and its surveillance payload,” Austin said in the statement.
Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-MT), a native Montanan, said the administration should have shot the balloon down over his state.
“I would have volunteered to be there and pull the trigger,” he told Breitbart News in an exclusive interview on Friday. “I can tell you your chances of doing harm to humans is low. And you know what, and Montanans would understand that.”
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-AL) said in a statement on Saturday:
I applaud our servicemembers for completing a successful mission to neutralize a spy balloon sent by the Chinese Communist Party. I remain deeply concerned by the Biden administration’s decision to allow the spy balloon to traverse the United States.
The Biden administration reportedly learned of the CCP spy balloon on January 28th — nearly a week before residents in Montana spotted the balloon loitering over their state. It’s clear the Biden administration had hoped to hide this national security failure from Congress and the American people.
He added, “Now, the White House must provide answers about why they decided to allow a CCP spy balloon to cross the United States and what damage to our national security occurred from this decision. The United States must project strength to deter China — this failure is another example of weakness by the Biden administration.”
Rep. Mary Miller (R-IL) said that China is “exploiting” President Joe Biden’s “weakness” with the spy balloon hovering over America and declared that the United States’s “national security must not be compromised by Biden family payoffs.”
Chinese spy balloon with inset of Xi Jiping (Screenshot, Lauren DeCicca/Getty Images)
Miller’s comments came in a tweet Friday morning as the Pentagon says the espionage device is expected to linger in United States airspace for a “few days,” as Breitbart News reported. The Congresswoman also called for the House of Representatives to “investigate why China is confident Biden will not respond to their hostile actions.”
China is exploiting the weakness of Joe Biden with their spy balloon. China paid the Biden family millions, but US national security must not be compromised by Biden family payoffs. The House must investigate why China is confident Biden will not respond to their hostile actions. pic.twitter.com/C4BvMJ13On
Rep. Mary Miller, R-Ill., speaks at a news conference held by members of the House Freedom Caucus on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, July 29, 2021.(Andrew Harnik/AP)
Tom Fitton, president of government watchdog group Judicial Watch, shared a similar thought to Miller’s, asserting Friday that the Biden Family’s “corruption dealings” help to “explain why Biden is allowing in plain sight brazen violation of our sovereignty and attack on our national security by Chinese spy balloon.”
Let’s be direct. Biden compromised by China because of his and Hunter’s corruption dealings. This helps explain why Biden is allowing in plain sight brazen violation of our sovereignty and attack on our national security by Chinese spy balloon. Why has it not been shot down! https://t.co/qRWwL5kPK7
As President of the Government Accountability Institute and Breitbart News Senior Contributor Peter Schweizer documented in depth in his book, , the Biden Family has scored tens of millions of dollars through lucrative business deals with individuals tied to the top echelons of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
The deals in which Hunter Biden was directly involved were conducted during and after President Joe Biden’s time as vice president, scoring the Biden family $31 million, according to Schweizer, who has emphasized this indicates a national security risk rather than the mere usual corruption or cronyism often documented in Washington, DC.
A key theme throughout Schweizer’s book is the espionage concept of “elite capture,” a way “to essentially buy off members of a country’s leadership.”
During an appearance on Fox News Channel’s Tucker Carlson Tonight following the book’s release, Schweizer explained the CCP’s perspective on the “elite capture” strategy to keep America docile:
… the theory is pretty simple, “You know, the United States is our rival, even our enemy, instead of going head to head with it, why don’t we just kind of pay off certain elements of the leadership. If we can capture them with sweetheart deals, with other benefits, we can effectively lobotomize the United States by making them unresponsive to our threat.”
As Breitbart News’s Emma-Jo Morris noted last year:
Schweizer explains that Beijing saw a financial relationship with the Bidens as an opening for “elite capture,” which allowed Hunter Biden to secure meetings and score major deals with people in the highest levels of Chinese financial institutions and the Chinese Communist Party — and in return they would be able to leverage the Bidens’ power for their interests.
One of the central early players in the Bidens’ Chinese deals is a tycoon by the name of Che Feng, or “The Super Chairman,” as Hunter and his partners referred to him.
Che, the son of a PLA soldier, has been described in Western media as “a shadowy and discreet investor,” whose father-in-law was the governor of the People’s Bank of China, and whose business partner was the Vice Minister of State Security, a man by the name of Ma Jian. Schweizer writes that Ma was reportedly the director of the ministry’s No. 8 Bureau, overseeing North American operations targeting foreigners with its counterintelligence apparatus.
The Super Chairman was meant to “fuse Chinese financial might to those with access to the highest levels of power in the Western world,” which led to the creation of Bohai Harvest RST (BHR), “funded by China’s biggest government-backed financial institutions,” with the Biden scion and his American partners.
Though Ma Jian and Feng were arrested on money laundering charges, ultimately pushing them out of the BHR deal, Feng played a key role in helping Hunter Biden establish connections to other players cozy with the CCP.
It was through Feng that Hunter Biden met Zhao Xuejun – who established the Harvest Management Fund and was a co-founder of Harvest Global Investments. His fellow Harvest Global Investments co-founder, Jia Liqing, is the daughter of former Security State Minister Jia Chunwang, as Schweizer noted. He quotes from the book Chinese Spies: the Security state is “in charge of secret service, espionage, and domestic and overseas intelligence work,” and Schweizer asserted about Jia Chunwang, “[t]here is no one more powerful in the world of Chinese intelligence.”
The seductive and lucrative deal that Hunter was now putting into place, creating BHR, involved two financiers with ties to the highest levels of Chinese intelligence, a billion-dollar private equity deal that we first exposed in Secret Empires. What we now know are the roles played by the spy-connected “Super Chairman” and Zhao.
According to Michael Lin, another Chinese partner, Hunter’s role in the venture was pretty straightforward: “Open as many doors as possible in the western world for this very famous Bohai professional team.” There was also the expectation that Hunter and his partners would ‘join some of the meetings in HK and China they arrange’ when communicating with possible financial partners.
As Schweizer noted, the final negotiations of the deal were conducted in the Spring of 2013, and though Hunter has claimed he was not present for talks, Secret Service travel records indicated that he traveled to Beijing between June 13-15, 2013. Months later, in December, he was flying to Beijing on Air Force Two with then-Vice President Biden, who was in China to meet with state officials. Per Red-Handed, it’s unclear what Hunter was doing during the winter trip.
FI:LE – In thisDec. 4, 2013, file photo, Vice President Joe Biden, left, waves as he walks out of Air Force Two with his granddaughter Finnegan Biden and son Hunter Biden at the airport in Beijing, China. (Ng Han Guan, Pool/AP)
“Ten days later, the BHR company was registered in Beijing,” Schweizer wrote in Red-Handed.
Eventually, the firm began “buying or investing in strategically important companies in China and the United States,” according to Schweizer, who also authored the best-seller Clinton Cash.
A company called China General Nuclear Power Corporation (CGN), later discovered by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to be a vehicle for nuclear espionage, became one of BHR’s early investments. The Department of Justice charged the company and one of its engineers, Allen Ho, “with stealing nuclear secrets from the United States.”
Citing court documents, Schweizer noted that Harvest Global Investments appeared to wire $5 million to Burnham, another Hunter Biden business, and combined with the BHR deal, the Biden family had received some $25 million, according to Red-Handed.
As time went on, Hunter was also introduced to a man named Ye Jiemaing (Jainming), a young business tycoon who was the founder and the then-chairman of CEFC China Energy. Hunter and Ye, the elite of the China elite, grew so close that Hunter texted his ex-business partner Tony Bobulinski informing him that they signed “an attorney client engagement letter” in the United States, with Hunter serving as his “personal counsel.” Hunter also aided in efforts to advance the company’s scope on the global stage with “vast energy holdings” in “Oman, Romania, Columbia, and Luxembourg,” Schweizer reported.
Like Biden’s other Chinese business associates, Ye has connections to the CCP, according to Schweizer:
CEFC was housed in a complex in Shanghai’s French Concession section, an area “primarily controlled by China’s military.” One of Ye’s early business partners was the granddaughter of “one of the founders of China’s military,” Marshal Ye Jianying.
The corporate logo of the company Hunter Biden was now advising, and which would pay him millions, features a star. According to company records on its English website, it represents ‘civil rights.’ However, on the company’s Chinese-language site, the star signifies that ‘this organization will play a strong and powerful role for the interests of the Chinese state and nation.
CHINA – May 19, 2022: In this photo illustration, a CEFC logo, which features a star, is displayed on the screen of a smartphone. (Photo Illustration by Sheldon Cooper/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Additionally, the CEFC supplied the People’s Liberation Army with oil and “saw itself as playing a central role in advancing China’s Belt and Road Initiative.”
In exchange for his work in trying to expand CEFC’s global reach, Hunter Biden was compensated with a 20 percent equity stake, and an $850,000 salary, which he reportedly griped was not enough. Ten percent of the equity Hunter held was for “the Big Guy,” who Schweizer identified as Joe Biden. It was through Ye that Hunter Biden met Gongwen Dong, who worked as the chairman’s “emissary” and was the then-chief financial officer of Lam Ting Keung’s Radiance Property Holdings, based in Beijing. Keung has “deep connections to ‘united front’ groups linked to Chinese intelligence” and “is also a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, a high-ranking Communist party advisory body,” Schweizer emphasized.
“Hunter would set up two entities with Ye, Hudson West IV and SinoHawk, to allow the Chairman to invest in U.S. infrastructure,” Breitbart News’s Morris noted. “In total, the Biden family received some $6 million from Ye’s companies.”
During a Newsmax appearance last year, Schweizer said, “Each and every one of those businessmen has direct ties to the highest levels of Chinese intelligence, meaning they’re business partners with the vice minister for State Security or they’re business partners with family members of the minister of State Security.”
It’s shocking to me that other media outlets, mainstream media, is not pursuing this story because it’s not a story of corruption anymore or cronyism — it’s of national security. And I think it raises questions — very serious questions — about the fact that the Biden family may be compromised.
Additionally, Red Handedreveals donations from communist China to the University of Pennsylvania nearly tripled after the university announced the launch of the Biden Center in February 2017. Notably, the Penn Biden Center is where some of the classified documents from Biden’s time as Vice President were recently found.
“In the three years before the announcement, the university received around $15 million. In the three years after, the total was close to $40 million. The latter number is $60 million from China if you include contracts,” Schweizer writes in Red-Handed.
Schweizer notes that Tony Blinken worked as the Penn Biden Center’s managing director for a period “before heading off to work on the presidential campaign in 2019.”
Now, Blinken is Biden’s secretary of state, “a role in which he was famously ambushed and curb-stomped by Chinese diplomats during his first bilateral conference with them in March,” Breitbart News’s John Hayward pointed out.
Additionally, Blinken has done nothing about China’s refusal to take back their illegal aliens who arrive at the southern border.
One of the few patriots left who understands the system and how it has been totally subverted under every citizen’s nose. If we can help to turn it around we will, otherwise our children will have nothing. Our investigations show there is no ‘government’ of the people for the people of Australia. The removal of the Crown from Australian Parliaments, followed by the incorporation of Parliaments aided by the Australia Act 1987 has left us with corporate government with policies not laws, that apply only to members of political parties and the public service. There is no law, other than the Common Law. This fact will be borne out in the near future as numerous legal challenges in place now, come to a head soon.
Apparently, the Chinese spy balloon isn’t the first. Additionally, according to the Pentagon, there are several more floating around over various countries. All of that said, what exactly is going on here and why doesn’t anyone just get rid of it?
These and other questions are posed by Tucker Carlson who seems as confused as anyone else about what exactly the nature of these Chinese Balloon things are all about. WATCH:
It does seem a little silly that our entire media apparatus is fixated on a Chinese balloon which could simply be destroyed if that was what the U.S. government really wanted to do. It’s all a little odd at this point…
I mean, what the heck else is going on while everyone is fixated on this balloon.
WASHINGTON DC – Not everyone in Washington is freaking out about the suspected Chinese spy balloon flying high over the United States. Some former officials say it’s giving U.S. diplomats exactly what they need: more leverage over Beijing.
The Chinese airship forced the U.S. military to scramble fighter jets, prompted lawmakers to demand answers from the Biden administration and led Secretary of State Antony Blinken to indefinitely postpone his trip to Beijing this weekend.
But Blinken was going to China without much hope of getting concessions on major issues such as Beijing’s support for Russia’s war on Ukraine, its human rights abuses or its threats to Taiwan. Now, some former officials who’ve worked on international negotiations say he may be in a stronger position, though that advantage may fade over time.
“This event definitely strengthens the hands of the United States,” said Heather McMahon, a former senior director at the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board. “Anytime an espionage operation is exposed, [it] gives the advantage to the targeted nation.”
Blinken was preparing to see top officials in China on Sunday and Monday in a follow-up to President Joe Biden’s meeting with Chinese paramount leader Xi Jinping in Bali in November. At the time, Biden pledged to “maintain open lines of communication” with Beijing amid worsening bilateral tensions.
The Pentagon’s announcement Thursday of an alleged Chinese surveillance balloon hovering over Montana changed that plan. In canceling Blinken’s trip, at least for now, the State Department said the incident “would have narrowed the agenda in a way that would have been unhelpful and unconstructive.” (read more)
According to the Politico ‘spin’, the appearance of the balloon is a good thing.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry on Friday initially denied any knowledge of the huge surveillance balloon floating through American airspace, then claimed it was a weather research “airship.”
The Pentagon responded to baffled questions about why the incredibly well-funded U.S. military was unable to detect, thwart, or destroy the balloon by claiming that attacking it could jeopardize people on the ground in Montana.
“I have noted relevant reports. We are gathering and verifying the facts,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said when asked about the balloon.
“China is a responsible country and we always act in accordance with international law. We have no intention to violate the territory or airspace of any sovereign country,” she insisted.
“As I said, we are gathering and verifying the facts. We hope both sides can handle the matter together in a cool-headed and prudent manner,” she said.
Mao said she had “no comment” about whether the balloon incident would affect U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s planned visit to China.
Later on Friday morning, the Chinese Foreign Ministry released a statement that claimed the balloon was a “civilian airship” conducting meteorological research that “deviated far from its planned course” due to strong winds.
“The Chinese side regrets the unintended entry of the airship into U.S. airspace due to force majeure,” the Foreign Ministry said, indicating the flight path of the balloon was beyond the control of its operators.
The Pentagon said on Thursday it was “confident” the large white balloon drifting over Montana with a hefty payload of electronics suspended beneath it was a surveillance craft of Chinese origin.
Pentagon officials said they had “urgently” contacted Chinese officials about the balloon and alerted President Joe Biden. On Friday, a U.S. official said the administration was in direct contact with Beijing at “multiple levels,” and the State Department summoned a Chinese official to file a formal complaint.
According to CBS News, President Biden wanted to shoot the balloon down, but advisers, including Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley, recommended against “kinetic action” because the balloon seemed to pose no immediate threat, and debris from an interception could endanger people on the ground.
President Joe Biden listens during a meeting with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, left, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, and other military leaders in the Cabinet Room the White House, Wednesday, April 20, 2022, in Washington. (Evan Vucci/AP)
Another senior official told Fox News that the weight of the equipment hanging from beneath the balloon raised concerns that shooting it down would create a large debris field.
CBS’s sources said shooting the balloon down might still be an option when it reaches a safe area. The balloon is apparently capable of maneuvering itself but is largely at the mercy of high-altitude winds. As of Friday morning, it was holding an altitude of about 66,000 feet.
“Instances of this activity have been observed over the past several years, including prior to this administration. We acted immediately to protect against the collection of sensitive information,” a senior administration official told NBC News, without producing any supporting accounts of American citizens watching giant Chinese spy balloons float over their heads during the Trump administration.
“Currently we assess that this balloon has limited additive value from an intelligence collection perspective over and above what the PRC can do through other means. Nevertheless we are taking all necessary steps to protect against foreign intelligence collection of sensitive information,” the official said. PRC stands for People’s Republic of China, the name preferred by the Chinese Communist regime.
“We are tracking it in minute detail in real time and we will constantly update our assessment. We are in constant surveillance of this thing through a bunch of different means,” the official promised.
The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) assessed the balloon “does not present a military or physical threat to people on the ground at this time,” and said it is “currently traveling at altitude well above commercial traffic.”
NORAD said the Canadian Armed Forces and “other partners” are monitoring the flight of the balloon, and Canada is “ taking steps to ensure the security of its airspace, including the monitoring of a potential second incident.”
The potential second incident appears to be a second balloon detected by the Canadians that is on course for U.S. airspace, although that report was tentative as of Friday morning:
President Biden himself refused to answer questions from reporters about the balloon on Thursday afternoon.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) said on Thursday the balloon showed “China’s brazen disregard for U.S. sovereignty” and was a “destabilizing action that must be addressed.”
“President Biden cannot be silent,” McCarthy said. “I am requesting a Gang of Eight briefing.” The Gang of Eight is a bipartisan group of leaders from the House and Senate who receive classified briefings from the executive branch. As Speaker, McCarthy is one of the members.
An unnamed defense official told Fox News on Friday the Gang of Eight briefing was delivered as McCarthy requested.
“You did see reports yesterday of a ground stop at Billings Airport and the mobilization of a number of assets, including F-22 [sic]. The context for that was that we put some things on station in the event that a decision was made to bring this down while it was over Montana,” the official told Fox News.
“We wanted to make sure we were coordinating with civil authorities to empty out the airspace around that potential area. But even with those protective measures taken, it was the judgment of our military commanders that we didn’t drive the risk down low enough. So we didn’t take the shot,” the official said.
The new House Select Committee on China also weighed in on Friday, with a statement from leaders Mike Gallagher (R-WI) and Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL) declaring “the Chinese Communist Party should not have on-demand access to American airspace.”
“Not only is this a violation of American sovereignty, coming only days before Secretary Blinken’s trip to the PRC, but it also makes clear that the CCP’s recent diplomatic overtures do not represent a substantive change in policy,” the committee leaders said.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi during the 77th United Nations General Assembly on Friday, Sept. 23, 2022. (David ‘Dee’ Delgado/Pool Photo via AP)
“Indeed, this incident demonstrates that the CCP threat is not confined to distant shores – it is here at home and we must act to counter this threat,” they warned.
Leland Wells / LOCAL NEWS X /TMX
Bemused residents of Billings, Montana – a state that happens to contain major Air Force bases and nuclear missile silos – watched a balloon the size of three buses drift overhead, temporarily grounding flights at Billings-Logan International Airport.
Some Montanans wondered why nothing was done to prevent the slow-moving, highly visible craft from penetrating American national airspace, while others shrugged it off as yet another example of the constant surveillance everyone in the world is subjected to.
“Seems invasive. That’s kind of our world today, I mean there are cameras everywhere. Like you can’t go unnoticed anywhere. You talk about what cereal you need to buy at the grocery store in front of your Alexa and all of a sudden your ads are cereal ads, you know,” mused Montana resident Shelby Fossum.
Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said in a statement Thursday:
The United States government has detected and is tracking a high-altitude surveillance balloon that is over the continental United States right now. The U.S. government, to include NORAD, continues to track and monitor it closely. The balloon is currently traveling at an altitude well above commercial air traffic, and does not present a military or physical threat to people on the ground. Instances of this kind of balloon activity have been observed previously over the past several years. Once the balloon was detected, the U.S. government acted immediately to protect against the collection of sensitive information.”
A senior defense official told reporters during a briefing, “We are confident that this high-altitude surveillance balloon belongs to the [People’s Republic of China].”
The official said President Joe Biden was briefed on the situation and had asked for military options, but that “it was the strong recommendation by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. [Mark] Milley and the commander of NORTHCOM, Gen. Glen VanHerck, not to take kinetic action due to the risk to safety and security of the people on the ground from the possible debris field.”
“Currently we assess that this balloon has limited additive value from an intelligence collection perspective. But we are taking steps, nevertheless, to protect against foreign intelligence collection of sensitive information. We are also tracking what abilities it could have in gaining insights, and continue to monitor the balloon as it is over the continental United States,” the senior defense official said.
The official said the military was looking at whether there was an option on Wednesday to shoot it down over sparsely populated areas in Montana, but that “we just couldn’t buy down the risk enough to feel comfortable recommending shooting it down yesterday.”
The official declined to say exactly when the Department of Defense began tracking it but said, “we have been tracking it for some time” and confirmed that its current flight path will “carry it over a number of sensitive sites.”
File/In this image provided by the U.S. Air Force, Airman 1st Class Jackson Ligon, 341st Missile Maintenance Squadron technician, prepares a spacer on an intercontinental ballistic missile during a Simulated Electronic Launch-Minuteman test Sept. 22, 2020, at a launch facility near Malmstrom Air Force Base in Great Falls, Mont. The U.S. says it is tracking a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon that has been spotted over U.S. airspace for a couple days but the Pentagon decided not to shoot it down due to risks of harm for people on the ground. One of the places the balloon was spotted was Montana, which is home to one of the nation’s three nuclear missile silo fields at Malmstrom Air Force Base (Tristan Day/U.S. Air Force via AP)
The official said the DOD’s best assessment is that the balloon does not provide “significant value added” over what China is “likely able to collect through things like satellites in Low Earth Orbit.”
“But out of an abundance of caution, we have taken additional mitigation steps,” the official added. “I’m not going to go into what those are. But we know exactly where this balloon is, exactly what it is passing over. And we are taking steps to be extra vigilant so that we can mitigate any foreign intelligence risk.”
The official added that the DOD has observed this happen a “handful” of other times over the past few years, but that it is “appearing to hang out for a long people of time this time around, more persistent than in previous instances.”
The official said the DOD has engaged Chinese officials “with urgency through multiple channels.”
“We have communicated to them the seriousness with which we take this issue. But beyond that I’m not going to go into the content of the — of the message. But we have made clear we will do whatever is necessary to protect our people and our homeland. And so if the risk profile that I described earlier, if that changes we will have options to deal with this balloon,” the official said.
The official confirmed that the DOD sent F-22s and other assets to observe the balloon.
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