Republican lawmakers are calling for a full investigation into the Chinese spy balloon that flew over the U.S. earlier this year, after reports that the Biden administration failed to block it from collecting intelligence from sensitive military sites.
The balloon, nearly as large as three school buses, was able to make multiple passes over some of the sites and transmit the information it collected back to Beijing in real time, according to two current senior U.S. officials and one former senior administration official.
The intelligence China collected was mostly from electronic signals, which can be picked up from weapons systems or include communications from base personnel, rather than images, the officials said.
Republican Senator Steve Daines of Montana said the administration’s explanation that the balloon had “limited additive value” for intelligence collection by the Chinese government “over and above what [China] is likely able to collect through things like satellites in low earth orbit” is little comfort to Americans.
Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi, ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, also condemned the administration’s handling of the matter. “We have consistently learned more from press reports about the Chinese surveillance balloon than we have from administration officials. … I intend to hold this administration accountable,” he said.
China has repeatedly denied any malicious intent behind the balloon, claiming it was an unmanned civilian airship that accidentally strayed off course. But the Biden administration has confirmed that it was tracking the balloon and that it had the capability of collecting signals intelligence.
The Defense Department has also said that any intelligence collected had “limited additive value“ for China, while the National Security Council declined to answer questions about what kind of electronic signals or communications the balloon could have accessed.
“This is an alarming breach of our national security that requires a complete and transparent investigation of the administration’s actions and a clear strategy for how to protect our military and American citizens from these types of threats in the future,” said Senator Daines.
The balloon was shot down off the coast of South Carolina on February 4, and officials are still analyzing the debris that was retrieved. But Republican lawmakers remain unconvinced and are now calling for a full investigation into the incident.
On FEBRUARY 12, Chuck Schumer said "we got enormous intelligence information from surveilling the balloon."
Actually, it was the Chinese who got "intelligence information" from surveilling U.S. military sites.pic.twitter.com/mQfkejWApr
— RNC Research (@RNCResearch) April 3, 2023