Feb 12, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Schumer: "It is wild" U.S. didn't know about China's balloon program earlier

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) acknowledged it was "wild" the U.S. didn't know about the Chinese government's use of balloons "until a few months ago," during an interview on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday.

Catch up quick: Last week, the U.S. shot down a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon that had traversed the U.S. and is believed to have been capable of collecting communications.

  • Pentagon officials have said that similar balloons crossed into U.S. airspace briefly at least three times during the Trump administration.
  • The State Department spokesperson said China has flown similar surveillance balloons over more than 40 countries across five continents in the past.
  • The U.S. on Friday shot down a "high-altitude" object that violated its airspace above territorial waters near Alaska, and on Saturday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that an unidentified object had been shot down in his country's airspace.
  • Little is known about the origins of the latter two objects and it is not clear whether they were in any way connected to the first.

State of play: The U.S. military and intelligence are "focused like a laser" on gathering more information about the balloons, Schumer said.

  • Asked by host George Stephanopoulos whether the surveillance balloon program would need to be shut down, Schumer agreed that the Chinese government would likely need to "get rid of it."
  • “I think the Chinese were humiliated. I think the Chinese were caught lying, and it's a real step back for them," Schumer said.
  • Schumer added that he believed Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) was looking into why it took so long for the U.S. military and intelligence to know about the balloons and said he supported Congress looking into the matter.

The big picture: Tester told CBS' "Face the Nation" on Sunday that while the military likely had "some" awareness of the use of balloons, Congress needs to have a debate about whether that awareness was at a sufficient level.

  • Going forward, the U.S. needs to have a specific plan for how to deal with such objects, "so we know exactly what's going to happen when these balloons come in and their threat is assessed," Tester said.
  • Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), the chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, told the same program Sunday that the flight of the suspected surveillance balloon was clearly intentional, calling it an "act of belligerence."
  • "It was done with provocation to gather intelligence data and collect intelligence on our three major nuclear sites in this country. Why? Because they're looking at what is our capability in the event of a possible future conflict in Taiwan. They're really assessing what we have in this country," McCaul said.
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