The Biden administration was aware of the Chinese spy balloon entering United States airspace on January 28 but tried to hide its existence from the American people until being forced to go public, according to a report on Saturday.
Bloomberg News reported that the Biden administration was “well aware” that the balloon had entered U.S. airspace on Saturday, January 28, but decided to keep quiet about it so as not to ruin a planned trip by Secretary of State Antony Blinken to China.
The outlet reported:
As it turns out, US authorities were well aware of the unidentified object that had entered American airspace on Jan. 28, that had then left and re-entered over North Idaho on Tuesday. But with such a high-profile trip at stake, keeping it on the down-low was key.
However, on Wednesday, February 1, a Billings, Montana, resident spotted the balloon around 5:30 p.m. local time, and the next day, a local Montana paper published a report about it. Later that day, late Thursday afternoon, the Pentagon finally confirmed the existence of the balloon.
— Chase Doak (@ckdoak) February 2, 2023
Officials who spoke to Bloomberg News claimed by that time it “became visible in Montana,” President Joe Biden had already been briefed on the balloon and the White House was “scrambling to decide whether to blast it from the sky” — despite five days of monitoring it.
According to Bloomberg News, the Biden administration considered the political implications of dealing with the spy balloon, which floated near the Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana, home to intercontinental ballistic missile silos. The outlet reported:
The Biden administration knew it had to exercise extreme caution especially in what was a heated political environment ahead of 2024 elections, with Republicans agitating on which party could strike a harder or tougher line on China.
Bloomberg News reported that Biden had “argued for shooting the object down, but was urged against doing so by his most senior military advisers, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley — who reportedly “insisted that such a move would put civilians at risk.”
“For now, the White House opted not to inform the American public. Events, however, soon forced Biden’s hand,” the outlet reported, referring to the local news report by the Billings Gazette, which had published a photo of the balloon.
“The pace of discussions in the White House quickened,” Bloomberg News reported. “In a call starting at 5:15 p.m. on Thursday, the administration finally went public.”
The Pentagon briefed reporters on a background conference call, and said there was consideration of shooting down the balloon as it transited over sparsely populated areas in Montana, but that they “just couldn’t buy down the risk enough to feel comfortable recommending shooting it down yesterday.”
Blinken finally canceled his planned trip to China on Friday morning, seven days after the balloon first entered U.S. airspace.
Bloomberg News reported that the administration spent “hours” debating whether Blinken should do so, and “finally felt they had no choice.” However, officials told the outlet that it was a postponement, not a cancellation, so as to send a “signal” that the U.S. had no desire to escalate matters.
The sentiment was that the trip was not worth the “potential domestic political costs of going, given that Blinken’s talks in China were not expected to yield much in the first place.”
In addition, the outlet reported, “Biden’s team worried that the incident would serve as more fodder for Republicans who believed the administration is weak on China, especially if the balloon crashed and hurt someone while Blinken was in Beijing.”
After going public, the administration then had to brief the “Gang of Eight” — the top leaders of the House and Senate, as well as the leaders of the House and Senate intelligence committees, Bloomberg News reported.
Even top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) has indirectly criticized the administration’s inaction. “There’s no way the CCP would allow a balloon like this to fly over the Chinese heartland,” he tweeted Friday. “China’s aggressive behavior is a violation of international norms and shows a reckless disregard for the safety of American citizens.”
There’s no way the CCP would allow a balloon like this to fly over the Chinese heartland. China’s aggressive behavior is a violation of international norms and shows a reckless disregard for the safety of American citizens.
— Mark Warner (@MarkWarner) February 3, 2023
The Pentagon announced Saturday afternoon that it had shot down the balloon as it reached the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of South Carolina.@RealUSC via Storyful
Biden claimed he had ordered the Pentagon on Wednesday to shoot down the balloon when it was safe to do so.
Austin released a statement that reiterated that point.
“On Wednesday, President Biden gave his authorization to take down the surveillance balloon as soon as the mission could be accomplished without undue risk to American lives under the balloon’s path. After careful analysis, U.S. military commanders had determined downing the balloon while over land posed an undue risk to people across a wide area due to the size and altitude of the balloon and its surveillance payload,” Austin said in the statement.
Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-MT), a native Montanan, said the administration should have shot the balloon down over his state.
“I would have volunteered to be there and pull the trigger,” he told Breitbart News in an exclusive interview on Friday. “I can tell you your chances of doing harm to humans is low. And you know what, and Montanans would understand that.”
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-AL) said in a statement on Saturday:
I applaud our servicemembers for completing a successful mission to neutralize a spy balloon sent by the Chinese Communist Party. I remain deeply concerned by the Biden administration’s decision to allow the spy balloon to traverse the United States.
The Biden administration reportedly learned of the CCP spy balloon on January 28th — nearly a week before residents in Montana spotted the balloon loitering over their state. It’s clear the Biden administration had hoped to hide this national security failure from Congress and the American people.
He added, “Now, the White House must provide answers about why they decided to allow a CCP spy balloon to cross the United States and what damage to our national security occurred from this decision. The United States must project strength to deter China — this failure is another example of weakness by the Biden administration.”