Lawmakers prepare to censure Biden officials over China spy bubble

Lawmakers plan to probe the Biden administration for what they call a failure to protect national security after a Chinese spy balloon flew over the US for several days before it was shot down on Saturday.

While there has yet to be an official announcement of the investigation, House Republicans are eager to take heat from the Biden administration for allowing a foreign adversary’s surveillance device to breach US airspace and let it remain there for days.

President Biden reportedly decided to shoot down the balloon on Wednesday, but the military waited to carry out those orders until it floated over the ocean. It is unclear why the US was convinced that it did not pose a security or safety threat in those days.

The incident inflamed already fraught tensions with China, and GOP lawmakers said it was another sign of US weakness in the face of growing threats from Beijing.

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC), said he was “deeply concerned about the Biden administration’s decision to allow a spy balloon to fly over the United States.”

“The White House must provide answers as to why they decided to allow a [Chinese Communist Party] spy balloon to fly over the United States and what damage to our national security has resulted from this decision,” he said it was stated in the Saturday announcement. “The United States must project strength to deter China — this failure is yet another example of the weakness of the Biden administration.”

HASC already is scheduled a hearing for Tuesday in the morning to hear witnesses from non-governmental organizations on “the urgent threat of the Chinese Communist Party to the national defense of the USA”.

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, also expressed concern that the Biden administration did not “take care” of the balloon before it became a “threat to national security.”

“I will demand answers and hold the administrator accountable for this shameful display of weakness,” McCaul it is stated in the announcement.

Rep. Joe Wilson (RS.C.), a member of the HASC, took it a step further, calling on Biden and Vice President Harris to resign.

“When there is a domestic attack, Biden and Harris will not be able to respond adequately,” Wilson tweeted.

The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) first detected the balloon north of the Aleutian Islands in Alaska on January 28. The U.S. military didn’t shoot it down at the time because “it wasn’t the time,” NORAD commander Gen. Glen VanHerck told reporters Monday.

The Pentagon notified reporters of the balloon five days later, on February 2, after reports of sightings over Montana, home to one of three nuclear missile sites, raised concerns that China may have collected potentially compromising national security information.

While Democrats largely defended the Pentagon’s response, Montana Democratic Sen. Jon Tester said he “demands answers” from the Biden administration and announced he would hold a hearing as chairman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee.

“I will bring people before my commission to get real answers about how this happened and how we can prevent it from ever happening again.” Tester said in a statement Friday.

Ian Johnson, senior fellow for China studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, said there should be a “cooling off period” before any investigations, arguing the incident was a matter of national security that should not be used to score political points.

Johnson added that the Biden administration was in a “trap”: either wait, or shoot down the balloon over land and potentially injure people or damage structures on the ground, which would cause its own scandal.

“I don’t think there are any traitors in the Pentagon,” he said. “These allegations of an outrageous breach of our national security make no sense to me unless you’re accusing the Pentagon of gross incompetence, which I don’t think is the case.”

The Pentagon tracked the balloon, reportedly weighing about 200 pounds and the size of three school buses, as it floated smoothly toward the Atlantic Ocean, where it was shot down by a fighter jet off the coast of South Carolina on Saturday. Recovery operations to salvage equipment attached to the balloon are underway.

China calls the balloon a civilian weather research airship and has expressed anger that the US shot it out of the sky.

However, the Pentagon is confident it was a surveillance device, noting that they have seen spy balloons before, including in the Pacific near Hawaii and in other countries. Another spy balloon was spotted in Latin America.

The Biden administration said it took down the surveillance device as soon as it was safe to do so.

“Today’s deliberate and lawful action demonstrates that President Biden and his national security team will always put the safety and security of the American people first,” said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the Sunday statement“while effectively responding to [People’s Republic of China’s] an unacceptable violation of our sovereignty.”

A senior defense official also said on Sunday that there was value in tracking the balloons and that they had “taken all necessary steps to protect against” the collection of sensitive information.

“We were able to study and examine the balloon and its equipment, which was valuable,” the official said, according to a Pentagon statement.

Several Republican senators have also called for an investigation, including Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-D.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), vice chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence, on Sunday called Biden’s response “dereliction of duty” for his delay in acknowledging the spy balloon in interview with Jake Tapper on CNN’s “State of the Union”.

But the questions now go beyond just the Pentagon’s response to the Chinese spy bubble that has made headlines in recent days.

On Sunday, American officials confirmed The Trump administration was apparently unaware of three previous incidents in which Chinese balloons flew over the continental US under its watch.

Vanherck told reporters on Monday that intelligence analysts learned about the three balloon incursions only after the fact, which he called “a gap in domain awareness that we have to figure out.”

Johnson, of the Council on Foreign Relations, said the bigger question now should be why the Chinese are deploying surveillance balloons — and lawmakers should put politics aside to figure it out.

“There are so many questions that need to be answered, there are so many holes in the story, we’re just missing a lot of facts,” Johnson said. “In the Cold War, there were more bipartisan efforts at resolution and healing [threats] as a matter of national security, not as a way to score political points. The spirit of bipartisanship is missing.”

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