The Hill: Tester demands Biden administration investigate U.S. technology in Chinese spy balloon

by Alexander Bolton

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), who is leading the Senate investigation into how a Chinese spy balloon was allowed to drift over Montana and much of the continental United States earlier this year, is demanding the Biden administration investigate the use of American technology in the balloon’s surveillance equipment. 

Tester, the chairman of the Defense appropriations subcommittee, said the use of American technology by a foreign adversary raises concerns about whether export controls are strong enough to safeguard national security. 

“The fact that the Chinese Communist Party was able to use our technology in their spy program is extremely troubling and must be immediately analyzed.  This is a clear demonstration that our current defense and technology export controls may not be adequately preventing or dissuading adversaries from using our own technology against us,” Tester said in a statement. 

He called on the Biden administration “to take whatever necessary action is required to bolster our export controls so that this doesn’t happen again.” 

Tester has offered an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, which will come to the Senate floor next week, to assess the potential use of commercially available technology for foreign espionage programs. 

Tester’s amendment would require Congress to receive a threat assessment report and would direct the departments of Commerce, State, and Treasury to use that report when reviewing export controls to limit the use of American-made technology by the Chinese government.

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that defense and intelligence agencies that analyzed the Chinese spy balloon an Air Force fighter shot down in February was equipped with commercially available U.S. technology to collect photos, videos and other information. 

The balloon was first publicly spotted drifting over Montana, home to Malmstrom Air Force Base, which has authority over 150 nuclear missile launch facilities across the state. 

Tester earlier this year brought Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall and members of the Air Force leadership to meet directly with service members to learn more about Malmstrom’s response to the spy balloon.