The Chinese high-altitude balloon that passed over the United States at the start of February “did a lot of damage,” according to Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
In an interview on CBS’s “Face The Nation” program, McCaul said the Chinese balloon was a “sophisticated spy balloon” that “went across three nuclear sites” as it floated over the United States from Jan. 28 to Feb. 4. McCaul specifically noted the balloon passed over nuclear bases in Montana, the U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM), and a base that hosts nuclear bombers in Missouri.
Specifically, the balloon passed over Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana and Offutt Air Force Base. Malmstrom is home to U.S. nuclear missile forces. Offutt is home to STRATCOM, which is tasked with detecting and deterring attacks against the United States and its allies, including nuclear strikes. The balloon also flew near Whiteman Air Force Base, which hosts the nuclear-capable B-2 Spirit stealth bombers.
“It did a lot of damage,” McCaul said of the high-altitude balloon’s flight path. The balloon passed over the various U.S. military sites before it was shot down off the coast of South Carolina on Feb. 4
“The fact is, whether it be the hypersonic weapon they’ve made that circled the world and landed with precision, to the spy balloon, we have to stop selling them the very technology that they use in their most advanced weapon systems that they can turn against us,” McCaul added.
Recent reports have indicated the Chinese government has bought U.S.-produced software products for use in its hypersonic missile programs. In recent years, U.S. officials have accused Chinese spies of stealing key technologies, and lawmakers have been considering laws to curb China’s access to sensitive U.S. defense programs.
US Military Says it ‘Mitigated’ Balloon’s Surveillance
U.S. defense officials have said they “mitigated” the balloon’s intelligence-gathering capabilities during its transit over the U.S., though they did not specify what means were used to block or reduce the balloon’s ability to transmit sensitive data back to China.
Officials in President Joe Biden’s administration have also said they took measures to mitigate the balloon’s ability to gather data. On Feb. 9, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the military was able “to protect any national security, sensitive information, that was on the ground as [the balloon] was moving on its path.”
McCaul shared his doubts about those mitigation efforts during the CBS interview.
“They say they mitigated it but my assessment, and I can’t get into the detail of the intelligence document, is that if it’s still transmitting going over these three very sensitive nuclear sites, I think if you look at the flight pattern of the balloon it tells the story as to what the Chinese were up to as they controlled this aircraft throughout the United States going over those sites,” McCaul said. “In my judgement it would cause great damage. Remember, a balloon can see a lot more on the ground than a satellite.”
The Biden administration has said he elected to wait until after the balloon was passing over open water before shooting it down in order to avoid endangering people with falling debris and maximize the chances of collecting information from the downed balloon.
“Shooting the balloon down over water wasn’t just the safest option, it maximized the chance of recovering the payload, giving us a better chance to get information from the Chinese surveillance balloon payload,” Jean-Pierre said on Feb. 6.
Other ‘Unidentified’ Objects
After shooting down the Chinese high-altitude balloon off the coast of South Carolina on Feb. 4, the U.S. military has observed other objects passing through U.S. air spaces.
One of the “unidentified” objects, described as being the size of a car, was flying at about 40,000 feet before it was shot down over Alaska on Friday. Additional unidentified objects were either shot down or observed over North America over the weekend.
“It’s unclear to me what these other three unidentified objects are. It could be space debris could be really quite frankly anything,” McCaul said.
McCaul said the U.S. may have a “keener” awareness after the recent Chinese surveillance balloon incident.