Sen. Jon Tester has announced that his Senate defense subcommittee will hold a hearing to demand answers from Biden administration officials on the suspected Chinese spy balloon that overflew U.S. airspace.
The Democrat from Montana, where Pentagon officials first announced the presence of the balloon, called China’s highly provocative overflight “completely unacceptable.”
“Montanans value their freedom and privacy and I’ll always fight to defend both,” Mr. Tester, who chairs the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, said. “China’s actions are a clear threat to those values and to America’s national security, and I’m demanding answers from the Biden Administration.”
“I will be pulling people before my committee to get real answers on how this happened, and how we can prevent it from ever happening again,” he said.
The Pentagon revealed on Thursday evening that it is tracking the Chinese balloon in U.S. airspace, sparking a firestorm of concern on Capitol Hill and leading Secretary of State Antony Blinken to abruptly postpone a long-planed weekend trip to China.
The Pentagon said the balloon was spotted at one point over parts of Montana, which is home to one of America’s three nuclear missile fields at Malmstrom Air Force Base.
The White House called the presence of the Chinese surveillance balloon over U.S. airspace a “clear violation” of U.S. sovereignty and international law, despite Beijing’s claims that the craft was not engaged in espionage.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the president asked the Pentagon to present options for how to respond once the balloon was spotted, but decided against shooting it down based on the recommendation of Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley who cited a risk to people on the ground.
“We are tracking it closely and keeping all options on the table,” she said. “It does not present a military or physical threat to people on the ground.”
Critics, though, have accused the administration of inaction in the face of a clear Chinese incursion into U.S. airspace.
“The Biden Administration’s weakness is provocative. Xi Jinping and the CCP are growing bolder because of it.,” said former Trump administration CIA Director and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. “Shoot down the CCP’s balloon safely and demand answers from Xi.”
Rep. Mike Gallagher, Wisconsin Republican and Chairman of the House China competition commission, said the balloon should have been shot down before it entered U.S. airspace.
“Now that it’s over the US we need to take it down safely to prevent further collection near some of our most sensitive military installations,” he said.
In a statement on Friday, Mr. Tester said he was “still waiting for real answers on how this happened and what steps the Administration took to protect our country.”
“I will hold everyone accountable until I get them,” he said. “I will always defend Montana and our national security from hostile adversaries like China.”