A top Senate Democrat has said he will be “demanding answers” from President Joe Biden‘s administration after a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon flew over his home state of Montana.
Senator Jon Tester, who is chairman of the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, announced on Friday that the committee will hold a hearing about the balloon.
The subcommittee that Tester chairs plays a key role in funding for the Pentagon, which has been monitoring the Chinese balloon as it has crossed the U.S., while the Department of Defense (DOD) has said their officials believe the balloon to have “surveillance capabilities.”
The Chinese Foreign Ministry has described the balloon as a “civilian airship” mostly used to monitor the weather.
Tester noted in a press release that the balloon had been seen above the town of Billings, Montana on Friday.
“Montanans value their freedom and privacy and I’ll always fight to defend both,” Tester said.
“China’s actions are a clear threat to those values and to America’s national security, and I’m demanding answers from the Biden Administration. I will be pulling people before my committee to get real answers on how this happened, and how we can prevent it from ever happening again,” the senator added.
Speaking to CNN‘s Anderson Cooper on Friday, Tester also expressed concern that the Chinese balloon could have been operating near U.S. Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs).
“Montanans, and I think all Americans, appreciate our freedoms and our privacy, and to have a Chinese surveillance balloon flying over a state like Montana, which has our ICBMs and is critical to deterrence to any sort of conflict, is disturbing to say the least,” Tester told CNN.
Tester is set to receive a classified briefing on the matter when he returns to Washington, D.C. next week, while the Biden administration will also provide a briefing to the so-called “Gang of Eight”—the members of Congress who review highly sensitive national security information.
Montana’s Malmstrom Air Force Base houses ICBMs—part of the U.S. nuclear arsenal—and Republican Senator Steve Daines of Montana has also expressed concern about the balloon’s presence over the state.
In a letter to the DOD on Thursday, Daines wrote that “the fact that this balloon was occupying Montana airspace creates significant concern that Malmstrom Air Force Base (AFB) and the United States’ intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) fields are the targets of this intelligence gathering mission.”
He said that he was “requesting a full security briefing from the administration on this situation.”
In a statement to Newsweek on Friday, Democratic Representative Ro Khanna raised similar concerns about the ICBMs in Montana. Khanna is a member of the new House Select Committee on Strategic Competition between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
“We need answers from the CCP about their surveillance of critical assets like the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana, which holds our ICBMs,” Khanna said.
Newsweek has asked the White House and Tester’s office for comment.
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