The Chinese Spy Ballon recently shot down by American forces was not a security threat when it initially flew over Alaska, defense officials testified Thursday.
The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense held a hearing about the Chinese spy balloon and other high altitude surveillance efforts against the U.S.
Officials from the Defense Department and Joint Chiefs of Staff were brought in for testimony. (RELATED: ‘Demonstrates Their Dishonesty’: Chinese Diplomat Insists US Return Debris From Balloon)
Republican Maine Sen. Susan Collins asked why the spy balloon was not considered a threat when it violated U.S. airspace in Alaska.
Sims defended the assessment from the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) that the balloon was not a threat as it entered U.S. airspace.
“There was no hostile act or hostile intent” when the balloon was flying over Alaska, said Lieutenant General Douglas Sims II, director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “At the time, there was no suspected impacted critical intelligence gathering ability in terms of infrastructure. That changed, as the balloon, as its path continued and that’s what prompted a different decision.”
“As we reconstruct the path, we are not concerned with intelligence gathering in Alaska,” he continued. “Based on that, the assessment continued from NORAD NORTHCOM to continue to observe and report.”
His comments were echoed by Melissa Dalton, assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense and hemispheric affairs.
“When the balloon entered U.S. airspace over Alaska, the Pentagon was tracking it very closely through NORAD, NORAD had custody of it and there were communications with the White House,” she said.
1) GOP AK Sen Murkowski on China balloon: As an Alaskan, I am so angry. I want to use other words but I’m not going to. The fact of the matter is, Alaska is the first line of defense for America, right?
— Chad Pergram (@ChadPergram) February 9, 2023
Later in the hearing, Republican Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski expressed her dissatisfaction with the balloon not being deemed a threat when it flew over Alaska.
“Think about it from Alaska’s perspective,” Murkowski said with indignation.
“Seems to be the clear message to China is, ‘we got free range in Alaska’ because they’re going to let us cruise over that until it gets to more sensitive areas. Tell me where the sensitive areas are,” she continued.
Murkowski went on to discuss Alaska’s role as America’s first line of defense against foreign adversaries, such as China and Russia.
The Chinese spy balloon was first detected by NORAD on Jan. 28th as it crossed Alaska’s Aleutian Islands, NORAD Chief Gen. Glen VanHerck said Monday. VanHerck said he did not take immediate action because the balloon did not pose a physical threat to America, based on his assessment.