Top Republican Senators Press Pentagon for Unanswered Questions About Chinese Spy Balloon

Frank Fang
By Frank Fang
March 10, 2023Politicsshare
Top Republican Senators Press Pentagon for Unanswered Questions About Chinese Spy Balloon
Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) in the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington on Jan. 26, 2021. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Pool/Getty Images)

Leading Senate Republicans are criticizing the Pentagon for avoiding their questions about the Chinese spy balloon that flew over the United States for days before being shot down.

In a letter Wednesday to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Sens. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), the top Republicans on the Armed Services and Intelligence committees, said that their questions to understand the timeline of events before the balloon was shot down had not been adequately answered. They questioned why it had taken so long since the questions were sent to Austin and Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines in a letter on Feb. 8.

One of the questions in the February letter asked Austin and Haines to provide “a full accounting, with date and time stamps, of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs’ engagements with the National Security Council and the President of the United States, regarding the balloon and its trajectory.”

NTD Photo
Senator and Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chair, Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), speaks during a hearing on worldwide threats, in Washington on March 8, 2023. (Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

The senators noted in the latest letter that Under Secretary for Defense for Policy Colin Kahl responded to their initial letter on Feb. 27, but the response came 10 days after their deadline. They added that Kahl refused to answer their questions and suggested that their questions had already been answered in two briefings the Biden administration provided to senators on Feb. 9 and 14.

“This response, which we interpret as reflective of your position, is unacceptable,” the senators wrote. “We attended both briefings and can say with utmost certainty that Dr. Kahl’s contention is wrong: many of our oversight questions about the administration’s immediate response to the Chinese surveillance balloon remain unanswered.

“In particular, we await documentation demonstrating when senior officials learned of the balloon and at what point you, and the President, were provided response options. The simple point of the letter was to establish baseline facts to inform all members of Congress.”


One particular issue the two senators wanted clarification on was when Austin learned about the Chinese balloon. They noted that Gen. Glen VanHerck, the commander for North American Aerospace Defense Command, notified “his chain of command” when the balloon was over the Aleutian Islands on Feb. 28.

“But it is our understanding you did not learn of the balloon until at least a few days later, by which point the balloon had traversed Alaska and Canada and re-entered the United States,” the senators wrote, referring to Austin.

On Jan. 30, the Chinese balloon entered Canadian airspace before reentering U.S. airspace over Idaho on Jan. 31, according to the Pentagon. The balloon was shot down off the South Carolina coast on Feb. 4.

The suspected Chinese spy balloon drifts to the ocean after being shot down off the coast in Surfside Beach
The suspected Chinese spy balloon drifts to the ocean after being shot down off the coast in Surfside Beach, S.C., on Feb. 4, 2023. (Randall Hill/Reuters)

“As the Department’s senior policy official, Dr. Kahl likely would have been involved in briefing you on the balloon and developing response options,” the senators wrote. “Alternatively, if Dr. Kahl did not play this role during the balloon crisis, learned of the balloon belatedly, or declined to provide response options while the balloon was over unpopulated regions of Alaska and Canada, that is something Congress should understand.

“Instead, Dr. Kahl is simply declining to answer our questions on your behalf.”

Trump Administration

The senators suggested that Kahl was “spearheading a communications strategy that aims to hide the administration’s early missteps,” saying that he “leaked previously classified information” about Chinese balloons during the Trump administration.

John Kirby, the strategic communications coordinator for the National Security Council, previously said that similar balloons traversed U.S. airspace three times during the previous administration.

Former President Donald Trump and his officials have said they were never briefed on Chinese balloons entering U.S. airspace.

“It remains unclear whether this leak was cleared internally though the proper channels,” the senators wrote. “Either way, it was a brazen attempt to shift blame.

“We sincerely hope you will hold Dr. Kahl accountable for his politicization of previously classified material.”

Wicker and Rubio ended their letter by saying that they would continue to wait for their February questions to be answered.

“It is imperative for Congress to understand why this Chinese surveillance balloon was not stopped sooner so we can help the Department of Defense and the intelligence community better protect our airspace,” the senators wrote. “Please let us know as soon as possible when we can expect to receive these responses.”

On Feb. 17, the Northern Command issued a statement announcing that it had concluded its recovery efforts to collect debris from the Chinese spy balloon. It added that the last of the balloon’s debris was being sent to an FBI laboratory in Virginia for “counterintelligence exploitations.”

The Epoch Times has contacted the Pentagon for comment.

From The Epoch Times

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