Tester and Daines look for answers at Senate briefing on Chinese spy balloon

Posted at 8:57 AM, Feb 10, 2023

New details into the Chinese surveillance balloon, as it's likely China's military is responsible for flying balloons over 40 countries and five continents.

The Biden administration briefed Congress on the balloon on Thursday.

A Senate hearing addressed the spy balloon that flew over Billings last week and then was shot down off the coast of South Carolina on Saturday.

Congress was briefed and Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., played a main role.

The military gathered items from the balloon including pieces of cameras and antennas, with officials saying the balloon's route took it past ballistic missile fields and a B-2 stealth bomber base.

"There's all sorts of suites of operations we have with what's going on in outer space and anything," Tester said. "But the question is, did we know what that balloon was trying to gather? Do we know what information it was trying to gather from the United States? It didn't fly over by accident. It was intentional. Do we know what the Chinese communist government was looking for?

"Senator, we have some very good guesses about that," said Jedidiah Royal, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs. "And we are learning more as we exploit the contents of the balloon and the payload itself."

Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., also attended the hearing.

“Unfortunately I left the administration’s briefing with more questions than when I went in," Daines said. "It is completely unacceptable and infuriating that the Chinese spy balloon was allowed to hover over Montana and our missile bases to begin with and was then allowed to travel across the entire United States before it was brought down. Montanans deserve more answers.”

After the hearing, Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., said the photographer in Billings alerted the country.

"The president has left the impression that if someone in Montana had not spotted the balloon and called CBS and CBS didn't print the story, the White House would never have told us there was a surveillance balloon," Kennedy said. "Number two, the White House said, well, it's okay to leave it there for a while because the balloon is not relaying information back to China. We don't have any basis for believing or not believing that. I'm not saying the president's lying, but he needs to explain why what he is asserting is actually the case. "

"I respect the need to keep some of this classified," said Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii. "But we all understand that some of the desire to keep things classified has to do with not wanting to disclose to the public things that might be inconvenient politically for the department."

"Senator, that is not our intent," said Melissa Dalton, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Hemispheric Affairs. "And I do believe we have sent that signal. This hab was different than the others in terms of the duration of its flight."