Exclusive — Ryan Zinke: Chinese Balloon Was Blatant ‘Poke in the Eye,’ Test of Biden’s Weakness

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - DECEMBER 4: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke gives a speech before U.S.
George Frey/Getty Images

Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-MT) saw the Biden administration’s handling of the Chinese surveillance balloon over the weekend as “another example of showing weakness,” he said during an appearance on SiriusXM’s Breitbart News Saturday.

The Montana lawmaker and former longtime Navy SEAL said the balloon, which the U.S. military took down Saturday after it first entered U.S. airspace a week prior, “should have been shot down” as soon as it crossed into U.S. territory.

“I’ve been to the Aleutian chain. It’s one of the most isolated, desolate spots on the face of the planet, and then it drifts over Montana and the governor doesn’t know about it. Congress doesn’t know about it,” Zinke said. “Look, this thing should have been shot down the moment it entered the U.S. airspace, period.”


The balloon first caught the public’s attention around Thursday after a photographer in Montana caught sight of it floating over Billings, but a senior defense official said during a press briefing Saturday that the Pentagon had been tracking the balloon since it floated into U.S. airspace, just north of the Aleutian Islands, on January 28.

Questions quickly began to swirl as the photos from Billings spread across the internet. Many public officials questioned why the Biden administration allowed the balloon, which it confirmed was a surveillance balloon belonging to the People’s Republic of China, which is run by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), to float across the country from Montana to Missouri to its end point of South Carolina on Saturday, when it was taken out by a missile once it was over the ocean.

The senior defense official said Saturday after the balloon saga had ended that “the president was comfortable with us taking the balloon down if we could avoid undue risk to civilians, and so we worked up an option to take it out over the water, and that’s what we did this afternoon.”

“That doesn’t hold any water in the Aleutian chain and Montana,” Zinke said, noting their rural landscapes.

The defense official said Saturday the remnants of the balloon and its surveillance equipment spanned seven miles across the ocean.

The “bottom line,” Zinke said, was that “this is another example of showing weakness. You know, it began very early in this presidency with Afghanistan, that worldwide showing of weakness that’s led, in my opinion, to Putin having the green light in Ukraine. We have no plan, by the way, in Ukraine, and we keep dumping money with no plan, with a blank check. And then you have Taiwan. And, look, if we can’t defend ourselves against a balloon, how do you think we can defend ourselves in Taiwan and make sure the South China Sea is a home to democracy and not Communist China?”

A high altitude balloon floats over Billings, Mont., on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023. The U.S. is tracking a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon that has been spotted over U.S. airspace for a couple days, but the Pentagon decided not to shoot it down due to risks of harm for people on the ground, officials said Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023. The Pentagon would not confirm that the balloon in the photo was the surveillance balloon. (Larry Mayer/The Billings Gazette via AP)

A high-altitude balloon floats over Billings, Montana, on February 1, 2023. The Pentagon would not confirm that the balloon in the photo was the surveillance balloon. (Larry Mayer/The Billings Gazette via AP)

Chinese surveillance balloons, which only scratch the surface of the country’s means of intelligence gathering, have crossed into the U.S. at least four times in recent years during both the Trump administration and Biden administration, the Pentagon official said Saturday.

The official said previous balloons had never floated in the U.S. for the duration that this latest one had, adding the Pentagon was “confident [the balloon] was seeking to monitor sensitive military sites” but that it “took all the necessary steps” to prevent the CCP from collecting sensitive data.

“A lot of balloons could go a lot higher,” Zinke said of the balloon, which was 90 feet wide and had an altitude of about 60,000 feet. “This was a poke in the eye. You could see it from Billings, Montana. … I guarantee you if we flew something over China, it’d be blown out of the air.”

Zinke reiterated that the CCP’s balloon move was “blatant” and contended that the intelligence the communist government actually gathered was a gauge of the Biden administration’s military strength.

“It was blatant, right? It’s a poke in the eye, but the Chinese know at 60,000 feet with a balloon that size, which is about the size of three buses back, it’s gonna be visible, so it was a poke in the eye, and the intelligence they learned from it was that you can poke us in the eye and we won’t do a darn thing about it, not this administration. … Does China really care about sending the air balloon over the United States? No. Do they care about Taiwan? Yes. Do they have Taiwan in their front sights? Absolutely. So to me, this is intelligence gathering of how strong we’re going to be internationally.”

Write to Ashley Oliver at aoliver@breitbart.com. Follow her on Twitter at @asholiver.


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