There were no wild gesticulations or fireworks at the House Armed Services Committee hearing Tuesday about the rising threat from China—but it was highly informative. This event couldn’t come at a better time as the nation is wondering how a Chinese spy balloon could wander into US airspace and float around for days. No one saw this coming, as our military took its lumps from the media in how this surveillance device, which was the length of three buses, could hover over American soil. It’s not an unprecedented breach, as these spy games have been playing for decades, but it’s still disconcerting, especially since passengers from a commercial airliner were the ones to spot the balloon. Its location was first pinpointed over Montana, where we have bases housing nuclear ICBMs.
The committee has three guests, Ambassador Robert C. O’Brien, former National Security Advisor, Admiral Harry B. Harris Jr., USN (Ret.), former Commander, U.S. Pacific Command, and Dr. Melanie W. Sisson, Foreign Policy Fellow Strobe Talbott Center for Security, Strategy, and Technology.
There were no throwdowns because there’s bipartisan agreement that spy devices entering US airspace unmolested is not in our national security interests. Even the most hardened leftist would probably agree. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) asked Harris whether the balloon trip was a Beijing psychological operation, probing how we would respond to this incursion. Harris couldn’t outright reject China’s intent—it’s possible. Gaetz followed up on where a hypothetical investment of $100 billion for future defense projects should be allocated, and Harris joked that it shouldn’t go to anti-balloon operations. It should instead be invested in space and cyber, where the US is woefully behind on the latter.
Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN) was more pointed in his line of inquiry, asking Harris if he was aware of any balloon infiltrations under Trump. Harris said he was not. When asked if he was shocked about how the Biden administration responded to the balloon, Harris said no, and that the president reacted well to the event. We collected intelligence on it and shot it down over the Atlantic Ocean without endangering the lives of civilians.
He added that if the balloon presented itself as an immediate threat, then another course of action was obvious, but also noted that this incident afforded China to exercise its diplomatic abilities, which it says it possesses but never did, which wasn’t shocking to him—instead, opting to throw a tantrum at us for downing their spy device.
When asked by Banks if the Pentagon was playing politics regarding this incident, as defense officials have started to leak that spy balloon infiltration occurred under Trump, Harris disagreed but added there’s a disconnect regarding our ability within the Defense Department to understand these balloons, which is a bit startling. He feels it’s more pressing to recover as much balloon and equipment as possible.
Harris added that it’s just incredible that China would think the US would believe this balloon blew off course. It happens often, but other nations warn each other, not after discovering it. It seemed as if he chalked the notion that we would believe this breach was accidental as pure comedy.
On the issue of fentanyl, of which China is the main supplier trafficked into the United States, Harris refused to agree with Banks that this is a state policy. He doesn’t feel that China is intentionally trying to kill Americans with these drugs, though he added that its proliferation among American communities is an issue of grave concern.