by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Editors at National Review Online urge the Biden administration to release important information.
The Chinese spy balloon collected intelligence over military sites that was transmitted to Beijing — but the revelations didn’t come from a disclosure by U.S. officials. They came from a report by NBC, which spoke to two senior U.S. officials, and one former senior official.
That’s about par for the course when it comes to the administration’s handling of this saga. It’s been two months since the balloon was shot down, yet the White House has chosen to leave rhe public in the dark about certain key details or, worse, mislead people about them.
In the aftermath of the balloon’s discovery above the U.S., and in the weeks following the shoot-down just off the coast of South Carolina, U.S. officials led people to believe that although the balloon flew over sensitive military installations, any information it collected was of limited value.
According to the NBC report, the balloon’s operators in China were able to control it to such an extent that it passed over some sites multiple times, while sending intelligence back to Beijing in real time; the signals it picked up on could have provided information on weapons and personnel. Notably, one military site the balloon crossed over is Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana, which hosts a sizeable chunk of America’s nuclear force.
One step that the administration took during the balloon’s flight is that it moved around certain pieces of equipment on these bases and blocked signals emanating from them, diminishing the harm posed by the balloon’s signal-collection effort, according to NBC.
However, the comments by the three officials seem to indicate that Washington believes the Chinese regime collected some intelligence beyond what it could have gotten via less invasive means.
Unsurprisingly, the administration was defensive, and in responding to NBC it stuck to its previous talking points.