Source: Great Falls Tribune
Montana Sen. Steve Daines said Friday that the Biden Administration’s decision to not shoot down the Chinese spy balloon spotted floating across Montana airspace Wednesday was a show of “weakness and indecision” that has “empowered and emboldened our enemies.”
“I believe that Montana truly got a firsthand look at the Biden Administration’s weakness on foreign policy this week,” Daines said during a telephone press conference on Friday. “It is a tremendous embarrassment for the United States of America. Montanans and all the American people deserve answers from the Pentagon and from this administration on what happened and what is being done to ensure this never happens again.”
The high-altitude balloon, estimated to be the size of three buses, was spotted by multiple people in the Billings area Wednesday afternoon as it drifted slowly across a clear blue sky. Telephoto images of the balloon taken from the ground show what appears to be some type of communications or solar array dangling beneath the balloon’s tapered base. According to the Associated Press, China insists the balloon is just an errant civilian airship used mainly for meteorological research that went off course due to winds and has only limited “self-steering” capabilities, though the Pentagon and other U.S. officials say it’s a Chinese spy balloon.
“We literally were made aware of this by Montanans calling into our office because they had seen it in the air,” Daines said of first learning of the balloon on Wednesday. “That is where we first heard about what is going on.”
“The problem I see with President Biden and the White House is they’ve empowered and emboldened our enemies through a show of weakness and indecision,” he added. “I just can’t imagine what China would do if a U.S. spy balloon was suddenly floating over China. It’s not acceptable.”
Daines said he had spoken with the Commander of Malmstrom Air Force Base, Col. Barry Little, Friday morning, but because of security concerns Little was unable to supply Daines with any specifics about what is known about the balloon or whether any sensitive information about base operations had been compromised.
“We were not in a secure environment or on secure phones so we were not able to communicate at those levels given that the Chinese could have well been listening,” Daines said.
Malmstrom is one of three Air Force bases in the United States that control the nation’s ground based nuclear deterrent. It operates 150 ICBM launch sites scattered across central Montana.
“We are waiting to get a classified brief on this,” said Daines. “I’m looking forward to a classified briefing where we can get all the information and details. How long did we know about this? What advance warning did we have?”
“It’s a dangerous place to be when our adversaries … feel bolder now about doing something so brazen as flying a spy balloon over our nuclear weapons,” he continued. “The Chinese have already admitted it’s their balloon publicly. They’re denying that it was surveillance, and I can tell you, I’m pretty sure the Chinese were not sending a balloon over Montana to check out our elk population.”
Daines said he believes the United States should have shot the spy balloon down as soon as it crossed into U.S. airspace, once it was determined that the balloon was on a path to cross above the country’s ICBM missile fields.
“When they saw a Chinese balloon with sophisticated equipment attached to it headed for our missile fields … at that point that is an incursion into U.S. airspace,” Daines said. “They should have taken that balloon out of the sky – shot it down.”
He scoffed at the Biden Administration’s explanation that the decision not to shoot down the balloon was based upon concerns that debris from the spy balloon could rain down across a wide area, putting the safety of people and property on the ground at risk.
“There’s no better place in America to take down an adversary like the Chinese balloon than Montana because of our sparse population,” Daines said. “They could have looked at the wind currents, possible landing places where the debris would hit the ground and ensure that that we were protecting the safety and security of Montanans.”
“You’d have higher odds of hitting a cow or a prairie dog or an antelope than you would hitting any kind of a structure or a person,” he quipped. “I think that’s an excuse.”