‘Thought before we shot’: Pentagon defends handling of China balloon

(NewsNation) — Some Republican senators have questioned why the Chinese balloon recently hovering over U.S. airspace was not shot down in Alaska.

Lawmakers voiced their concerns about China at two different U.S. Senate hearings on Thursday morning. Some senators also received a private, classified briefing about the balloon.

Coming out of one of the meetings, Sen. Dan Sullivan of Alaska said the state military surveyed the balloon when it was entering Alaska’s airspace.

His remarks sparked more frustration among GOP senators about how the Pentagon handled the situation. Some appearing to place blame on the Pentagon’s lawyers.

“Somehow, they had the legal authority to shoot it down over South Carolina and not Alaska? I looked at him and said, ‘That is absurd.’ Go get a better lawyer,” Sen. Dan Sullivan said.

Sen. Roger Marshall of Kansas added: “This should have been shot down over Alaska. The Department of Defense has too many lawyers and we’re just perceived as very weak across the nation, across the world.”

In one of the Senate hearings, the Pentagon’s Director of Operations defended the decision of when and where to shoot down the balloon.

“We think before we shoot, and in this case, we thought before we shot,” Lt. Gen. Douglas Sims II, director for operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said.

He continued: “I am very confident in the authorities that were granted to NORAD Northcom Commander to make decisions here. That the decision he made were in the best interests of the United States and our citizens.”

Another defense official pointed to deep sea depths off the coast of Alaska, saying it would have hindered recovery operations. Still, many questions remain as to why the balloon was taken down after it had crossed the country and not well before that point.

As far as recovery efforts go, senior FBI officials say they have been able to examine some of the outer portions of the balloon, but they have not been able to investigate the payload yet, which is where it’s believed that much of the technology is located.

FBI officials say at this point, they have not found any harmful or explosive materials.

NewsNation is receiving a better understanding of the scope of the spy balloon program. The State Department says these balloons have flown over more than 40 countries in five continents.

The House also discussed the China balloon on Thursday. The legislative body voted unanimously to condemn China’s balloon surveillance as a “brazen violation” of U.S. sovereignty.

“This resolution, I believe, sends a clear bipartisan signal to the CCP and our adversaries around the world that this action will not be tolerated,” said Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, referring to the Chinese Communist Party.

China said Thursday that U.S. claims that the balloon was part of an extensive surveillance program amount to “information warfare against China.”

China insists that the balloon was a civilian meteorological airship that floated off path and believes the U.S. “overreacted” by shooting it down. They have not provided word on who the balloon belonged to at this time.

The People’s Republic of China recently rejected a request from the U.S. to have a secure call between top defense officials after the balloon floating in U.S. airspace was shot down off the Carolina coast, the Pentagon said Tuesday.

Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder told NewsNation that immediately after the U.S. took action to bring the balloon down Saturday, the Department of Defense asked to have a secure call between U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and PRC Minister of National Defense Wei Fenghe.

“We believe in the importance of maintaining open lines of communication between the United States and the PRC in order to responsibly manage the relationship. Lines between our militaries are particularly important in moments like this. Unfortunately, the PRC has declined our request,” Brig. Gen. Ryder said, in part.

In wake of the controversy, Secretary of State Antony Blinken called off a planned visit to Beijing. China’s Commerce Ministry said they have welcomed a proposed visit by U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. It’s uncertain when Blinken might reschedule his visit.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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