- The Washington Times - Friday, February 3, 2023

Sen. Steve Daines of Montana wants a full briefing from the Pentagon on a Chinese balloon that was spotted high over his state this week.

Mr. Daines, a Republican, told Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin he is worried the balloon is part of an intelligence-gathering mission aimed at the Malmstrom Air Force Base and U.S. intercontinental ballistic missile fields.

“Given the serious nature of the event, I am requesting a full security briefing from the administration on this situation,” Mr. Daines wrote Thursday in a letter to Mr. Austin. “It is vital to establish the flight path of this balloon, any compromised U.S. national security assets, and all telecom or IT infrastructure on the ground within the U.S. that this spy balloon was utilizing.”

The discovery occurred days before Secretary of State Antony Blinken was supposed to go to Beijing for weekend talks, a trip that has now been postponed, The Associated Press reported, citing a U.S. official.

The official said Mr. Blinken and President Biden determined it was best not to proceed with the trip at this time.

Defense Department officials spotted the balloon this week but said they’re not planning to shoot it down because of possible damage from resulting debris.

The Pentagon declined to say how large the Chinese balloon is, but it was large enough to be spotted by pilots, even though it’s above commercial air traffic. The DOD also said it worked to make sure the balloon cannot collect sensitive information.

“We know exactly where this balloon is and exactly what it is passing over,” a senior official said Thursday. “We are taking steps to be extra vigilant so we can mitigate any foreign intelligence risk.”

Pressed on the balloon Friday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning told reporters the communist government is looking into it.

“China is a responsible country and has always strictly abided by international laws, and China has no intention of violating the territory and airspace of any sovereign country,” she said.

Mr. Daines said he needs more assurance.

“Given the increased hostility and destabilization around the globe aimed at the United States and our allies, I am alarmed by the fact that this spy balloon was able to infiltrate the airspace of our country and Montana,” Mr. Daines wrote Mr. Austin. “There is no higher priority for your administration than the safety and security of the American people, and it is imperative that your administration reassure them of that fact at this time.”

Rep. Elise Stefanik, a New York Republican and senior member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and House Armed Services Committee, added to GOP demands on Friday.

“This should be a wakeup call for Joe Biden’s weakness on the world stage. He can no longer allow China, our greatest geopolitical challenge, to undermine us,” she said.

Ms. Stefanik requested a briefing on the situation “so that we can know exactly how this happened and what malign intentions are behind this spying to ensure we hold China accountable, so the [Chinese Communist Party] does not violate American sovereignty again.”

Mike Glenn contributed to this story.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

Copyright © 2023 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide