In response to backlash from Republican critics who asserted that the Biden administration should have taken earlier action to shoot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon spotted in U.S. airspace earlier this month, federal authorities have done their best to assure the American people that the vessel was likely unable to gather any damaging sensitive information.
President Joe Biden defended his decision to wait until the balloon exited South Carolina’s coast before ordering a strike that brought it down, echoing the allegations of his handlers that it could have posed a threat to life and property if shot down over land.
As for the severity of the situation, he claimed that it was “not a major breach,” adding: “Look, the total amount of intelligence that’s going on by every country around the world is overwhelming.”
It's ridiculous we're debating whether China can send airships over the U.S.
The Chinese Communists laughed at America while Joe Biden let the Chinese spy balloon float across America. pic.twitter.com/aRlWziD9gW
— Tom Cotton (@SenTomCotton) February 10, 2023
Despite the faint comfort that such an argument was apparently intended to provide, several outspoken GOP lawmakers reacted with dismay over the fact that it is not at all clear what capabilities the balloon actually had as it drifted across the continental United States.
U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT) expressed his concerns in a CNN appearance on Thursday, rejecting the White House’s assurance that the espionage mission was not a big deal.
Although he is optimistic that “we will get some” additional information about the balloon, he lamented that at this point there are many unanswered questions with potentially serious national security implications.
“They’re confident that they didn’t get sensitive information,” Stewart said of U.S. officials. “We don’t know that at all. I mean, as you know, this thing hovered or loitered for quite a while over one of our missile fields and we just don’t know what information they gleaned or what information they were able to transmit.”
He went on to assert that even an ongoing investigation might not be able to provide meaningful details, concluding: “We may never know what information they were able to glean from that.”
The Utah Republican’s sentiment has been shared by Republicans in both chambers of Congress, including Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), who insisted that “the American public deserve more than they have seen in terms of transparency about why this spy balloon was allowed to spend two days over our waters and over the state of Alaska.”