Leon Panetta, a former defense secretary in the Obama administration, questioned the Biden administration’s response to the suspected Chinese spy balloon that drifted across the U.S. before being shot down off the Carolina coast on Saturday.
During an appearance on “CNN Newsroom,” Panetta told host Jim Acosta that U.S. officials should’ve taken steps sooner and been more transparent with the American public about the balloon as President Biden “allowed it to simply cross over the country.”
“So the question obviously is — Pentagon said that there were risks here. I understand that argument that there were debris risks,” Panetta said. “At the same time, I think we should have acted earlier if our suspicions were valid that this was in fact on an intelligence mission.”
Biden reportedly ordered the balloon to be shot down on Wednesday, but those orders were not carried out until it was above the ocean. Panetta, who also served as CIA director under Obama, said that information should have been conveyed to Americans.
“It would have prevented some of the criticism that occurred later, and the American people I think are entitled to know just exactly what our adversaries are up to,” Panetta said. “So I think greater transparency would have helped the White House as well.”
Biden faced a rash of criticism over the weekend, mostly from Republicans who said he acted too slowly in shooting down the balloon, allowing it to drift over areas with sensitive military sites.
The incident comes amid tension between Washington and Beijing and as Democrats and Republicans seek to take action to curb the Chinese threat, both militarily and economically.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken postponed his trip to Beijing on Friday, and a senior State Department official called the incident a “clear violation of our sovereignty as well as international law.”
U.S. fighter jets finally shot down the suspected spy balloon off the Carolina coast Saturday afternoon, and the Federal Aviation Administration paused flights from three airports in North Carolina and South Carolina due to security concerns.
The U.S. military is currently working to recover debris and intelligence information from the spy balloon.
Panetta told Acosta that he hopes U.S. officials will tell their Chinese counterparts that this type of incident “cannot happen again” and “that we will indeed shoot it down much earlier than we did this time around.”
Source: The Hill
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