Democrats and Republicans spent Sunday questioning the Biden administration over the takedowns of two unidentified aerial objects in recent days, with some criticizing the White House over a lack of transparency about what the objects were and where they came from.
The takedowns came on the heels of President Biden’s order just over a week ago that directed the U.S. military to shoot down a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon that had spent days drifting across the continental U.S. That led to revelations by Pentagon officials that similar aircraft had been seen in American airspace at least three times during the previous administration and once earlier in the Biden administration.
It prompted a host of questions about why the information wasn’t shared with the public earlier, which was not helped by the two new shoot-downs of objects flying over American and Canadian airspace on Friday and Saturday, about which even some Democrats said they wanted to see the administration be more candid.
Rep. Jim Himes (Conn.) the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said he has “real concerns” about the Biden administration not being “more forthcoming” about the recent incidents.
“I have real concerns about why the administration is being not more forthcoming with everything that it knows,” Himes said on NBC’s “Meet the Press. “But part of the problem here is that both of the second and the third objects were shot down in very remote areas. So, my guess is that there’s just not a lot of information out there yet to share.”
While Himes, who said he has not been briefed on the incidents that took place Friday and Saturday, said the administration took proper steps in the take down of the first balloon off the South Carolina coast, he acknowledged that the public was not made aware of it until it reached Montana via Alaska.
“You know, in an absence of information, people will fill that gap with anxiety and other stuff. So, I wish the administration was a little quicker to tell us everything that they do know,” Himes said.
A possible third aerial object was taken down on Sunday over Lake Huron, according to Michigan lawmakers who said they were in contact with the Defense Department.
Rep. Jack Bergman (R-Mich.) said the military had “decommissioned” an “object” over the Great Lakes region.
“I appreciate the decisive action by our fighter pilots,” Bergman tweeted before adding, “The American people deserve far more answers than we have.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who along with Himes is part of the so-called “Gang of Eight” lawmakers in both chambers who receive high-level classified briefings, said he spoke to White House national security advisor Jake Sullivan Saturday evening about the incidents of the past two days.
He relayed on ABC’s “This Week” that the administration believes what was taken down Friday and Saturday were also balloons, but much smaller than the one that traversed the country.
Schumer joined a chorus of lawmakers in saying that the parts recovered from the balloon brought down over water will likely help the U.S. learn more about China and its surveillance and tech.
“We’re gonna probably be able to piece together this whole surveillance balloon and know exactly what’s going on. So that’s a huge coup for the United States,” Schumer said.
“I think the Chinese were humiliated. I think the Chinese were caught lying. I think it’s a real step back for them,” the majority leader said.
Schumer offered more details on the last two takedown incidents than White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, who told MSNBC’s “The Sunday Show with Jonathan Capehart” that the move to take down an object over Canada’s Yukon territory was “out of an abundance of caution.”
“We’re always gonna track, we’re always going to detect and we’re always going to defend our airspace,” Jean-Pierre said.
Republicans expressed frustration that the Biden administration let the Chinese surveillance balloon float for days along a flightpath that defense officials determined went over sensitive military sites. But House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Turner (R-Ohio) appeared to offer some praise for the administration’s quick actions against the two sightings that followed.
“They do appear somewhat trigger happy, although this is certainly preferable to the permissive environment that they showed when the Chinese spy balloon was coming over some of our most sensitive sites,” Turner said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
But Turner also called the Biden administration “particularly annoying” for not briefing Congress about the new objects and any updates on what’s been learned from the balloon.
“The Biden administration needs to stop briefing Congress through our television sets and actually come and sit down and brief us,” Turner said.
Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, meanwhile, said the Chinese surveillance balloon “did a lot of damage” by flying over the sensitive U.S. sites.
“They say they’ve mitigated it but… going over those sites, in my judgment, would cause great damage. Remember, a balloon could see a lot more on the ground than a satellite,” McCaul said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
Democrat Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) appeared to contradict the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) when he said on “Face the Nation” that it’s possible an object may still be flying over Montana’s air space after NORAD detected a radar anomaly Saturday and sent a fighter aircraft to investigate while it issued a temporary flight restriction above central Montana.
Tester, whose team has been in “close touch” with the Department of Defense, suggested an object could still be at large, if not a “false alarm.”
“There was an anomaly and they’ve investigated … I think it got dark last night so they couldn’t fully check it out. There may still be something up there, it may be a false alarm,” Tester said.
When asked about Tester’s comments, NORAD referred The Hill to its statement from Saturday evening in which it said it did not identify any objects that correlated to what appeared on the radar. NORAD provided no updates on the matter on Sunday.
The Montana senator, who was critical of the Biden administration for not shooting down the first suspected Chinese surveillance balloon when it crossed over Montana earlier this month, also said the country needs to have a gameplan for any future incidents like the ones over Alaska and Canada’s Yukon territory in recent days.
“Going on in the future, I think there needs to be a plan that’s right up front. So we know exactly what’s going to happen when these balloons come in and their threat is assessed, what’s going to happen. But… I got briefed, both in open session and a classified session and quite honestly, the military and intelligence community’s explanation of what transpired with that balloon, I accept,” Tester said.
Stephen Neukam contributed.
Source: The Hill
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