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Biden denies that spy balloon was a major breach in national security

By Ben Marquis
|
February 10, 2023

There have been some serious critiques of the manner in which President Joe Biden's administration handled the recent incursion into U.S. airspace by a Chinese spy balloon, particularly the fact that it was allowed to traverse across much of the continental U.S. before it was eventually shot down off the coast of South Carolina.

When asked during an interview this week if the Chinese spy balloon constituted a "major security breach," Biden insisted that it was not and simply chalked it up to the normal international intelligence gathering that takes place all of the time, The Hill reported.

Yet, he seemingly contradicted himself in that same interview by acknowledging that the high-altitude balloon's incursion had been a "violation of international law" as well as of U.S. airspace and sovereignty.

Biden has no regrets on how Chinese spy ballon was handled

Those remarks from President Biden came amid an interview in Florida on Thursday with Julio Vaqueiro of Spanish-language news outlet Noticias Telemundo, with the Chinese spy balloon incident being just one of several issues discussed.

"Let me ask you about the Chinese balloon," Vaqueiro said. "You know, everyone is talking about this -- now that we know what we know is that the balloon had antennas and a communication system. Do you regret not having insisted on bringing it down sooner?"

"No," Biden replied with a whisper as he leaned forward. "I look at the experts in the intelligence community, the defense community. They've forgotten more about than you or I know."

"I said I wanted it shot down as soon as possible and they were worried about the damage that could be done even in a big state like Montana," he continued. "This thing was gigantic. What happened if it came down and hit a school, in a rural area? What happened if it came down?

"So I told them as soon as they could shoot it down, shoot it down. They made a wise decision. They shot it down over water, they're recovering most of the parts, and they're good," the president added.

"It's not a major breach"

Perhaps unsatisfied with that response, Vacqueiro pressed the matter and asked, "Wasn't it a major security breach for the United States, just the fact that the balloon came into the airspace and flew over the country for so many days?"

"No, no," Biden said with a chuckle. "Look, the total amount of intelligence gatherings going on by every country around the world is overwhelming, and the idea that a balloon could traverse, uh, break American airspace, is, uh ... anyway ... it's not a major breach."

"I mean, look, it's totally -- it's a violation of international law. It's our airspace. And once it comes in our space, we can do what we want with it," he added.

Critics say spy balloon should have been shot down immediately

Voice of America reported that the high-altitude Chinese spy balloon had first violated U.S. airspace over Alaska on Jan. 28 then crossed back over the waters of the Pacific Ocean before then violating Canadian airspace prior to re-entering U.S. airspace over Idaho and Montana around Feb. 2.

It was around that time, while it was over Montana, that Biden allegedly gave the order for the balloon to be shot down, but he relented to his intelligence and military advisers who urged him to wait until the balloon was back over water again before bringing it down.

That delay ostensibly served two purposes – preventing the possible risk of death and injuries to people or property damage caused by the falling debris, as well as providing an opportunity to conduct counterintelligence operations to better understand the capabilities of the Chinese craft.

Most Republicans, along with a handful of Democrats, have criticized that delay as an unnecessary risk and, as Vacqueiro asked, a major breach of national security, which could have been avoided if the balloon had been shot down days earlier when it first violated the airspace of Alaska's sparsely populated Aleutian Islands.

President Biden's denial and dismissal of those concerns will likely not go over well with congressional Republicans, and it wouldn't be surprising at all if it results in GOP-led committee investigations and potentially even impeachment charges.