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Biden Admin Reveals What China's Spy Balloon Was Capable of Doing, House Condemns Brazen Act

FBI special agents assigned to the evidence response team process material recovered from the high altitude balloon recovered off the coast of South Carolina, Thursday, Feb. 9, 2023, at the FBI laboratory in Quantico, Va., (FBI via AP)

The Biden administration says the Chinese spy balloon that floated over American air space was capable of collecting intelligence signals.

Officials told Congress Thursday the balloon was equipped to detect and collect intelligence signals as part of a huge, military-linked, aerial surveillance program that has targeted more than 40 countries under the direction of the communist People's Liberation Army. 

The balloon was equipped with multiple antennas capable of "intelligence collection operations", a senior State Department official said in a background briefing.

According to the administration, similar balloons have sailed over five continents.

Members of both the House and Senate have now been given classified briefings on the balloon.

Several senators questioned whether or not shooting it down over Montana would actually have been a threat, and expressed their outrage over letting it fly over the U.S. at all.

"This administration owes the American people real answers not only on what happened last week but what steps they'll take to make sure it never happens again," said Sen. Jon Tester (R-MT). 

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) reminded Defense Department officials during a Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee Oversight Hearing Thursday that "Alaska is the first line of defense for America."

"As an Alaskan, I am so angry," Murkowski said. "It's like this administration doesn't think that Alaska is part of the rest of the country…{the U.S.} sent a clear message to China: 'You've got free range in Alaska.'"

Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) noted that shooting it down earlier would not have put anyone in danger as the administration had claimed. "The greatest risk would have been hitting a cow, a prairie dog, or an antelope," he said.

While other Democrats praised Biden for his leadership in eventually shooting down the balloon, one member of his party criticized waiting so long to shoot it down, saying the delay made the U.S. look weak. 

During a House Financial Services Committee hearing on Tuesday, U.S. Rep. David Scott (D-GA) ripped the administration for not shooting the balloon down sooner, according to The Hill

"And that's why I was concerned, deeply concerned, about this balloon business and why the president allowed this balloon to go all over our country and not blow it down," Scott said.

"I love the president, I support him, but this move not to blow down that balloon sends a powerful message to both our enemies and our friends," he added later. "It's all about data, it's all about intelligence, it's all about knowledge, and they got us on this one."

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Federal officials don't believe the balloon collected any sensitive information.

Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Hemispheric Affairs Melissa Dalton testified why the balloon was still allowed to cross the entire country after President Biden was briefed.

"The military recommended taking the balloon down over water," Dalton explained. "Waiting to do so had three benefits. First, it gave us additional time to observe the balloon, again assessing the PRC's capabilities and tradecraft. Simultaneously we protected against intelligence collection."

"Second, this allowed us to refine options and decrease the risk of debris causing harm to civilians. And third, waiting to shoot the balloon down over water improved our prospects of recovery, which are ongoing," she said.

Both parties in Congress condemned China for its brazen violation of U.S. sovereignty and efforts to "deceive the international community through false claims about its intelligence collection campaigns."

The lawmakers voted unanimously – 419 to 0 – on Thursday to hold China responsible for the spy balloon that crossed the United States before it was shot down off the coast of South Carolina.

The Chinese government on Friday dismissed the House resolution condemning Beijing for the incident. "China is strongly dissatisfied with this and firmly opposes it," Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning told reporters at a daily briefing. "The resolution by the U.S. Congress was purely political manipulation and hyping up." 

After initially expressing "regret" over the incident, China's rhetoric has hardened in recent days as the FBI gathers debris from the site of the downing in U.S. territorial waters off the coast of South Carolina and sends it to the FBI's lab in Quantico, Virginia, for investigation.

Beijing said the U.S. "overreacted" by shooting it down. The communist regime's foreign ministry then tried to blame America for the incident that China caused, labeling the U.S. action "irresponsible."

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