Leading Defense Subcommittee Hearing, Tester Presses for Answers on Chinese Spy Balloon Funding, Classified Leaks

Senator: “This committee on both sides of the aisle wants to make sure our nation is safe and provide the resources to do that”

“Do we have protections in place… to stop this from ever happening again?”

U.S. Senator Jon Tester, Chairman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, today pressed Biden Administration officials on funding priorities in response to the Chinese spy balloon, and for answers on the recent classified leaks by an Air National Guardsman.

Tester reiterated that he believes the Chinese spy balloon should have been shot down earlier and noted that the Administration’s budget proposal includes an additional $90 million to prevent future incursions of U.S. airspace. 

“A few months ago we saw an incursion of a Chinese spy balloon… I think it should have been shot over the Aleutians but it wasn’t, and it had the ability to gather intelligence from bases across this country. The Administration put in [an additional] $90 million in this budget to improve detection and assessment. This question is for you General Brown, is there a point person within the Air Force to improve our detection and assessment of the balloon issue… And can you tell me who that person is?”

Tester then pressed officials on why funding for radar detection is not currently a higher priority for the Air Force.

“The NORTHCOM commander has told us that he has additional unfunded requirements for Air Force over the horizon and long range expeditionary radars. We need to provide the resources, and I think this committee on both sides of the aisle wants to make sure our nation is safe and provide the resources to do that. So why has the Air Force decided to put this on the unfunded list instead of a higher priority?”

In addition to pressing for answers on funding to prevent future airspace incursions, Tester also questioned officials about the recent classified leaks from an Air National Guardsman.

“General Brown I’ve got three questions. Number one, why did this individual have access to this classified information? Number two, how could this Guardsman take this information and distribute it electronically for weeks, if not months, and nobody knew about it? And number three, do we have protections in place… to stop this from ever happening again?”

As Chair of the Senate Defense Appropriations Committee, Tester continues to lead oversight efforts around the Chinese spy balloon and is committed to securing a budget that will ensure the Department of Defense has the tools it needs to better prevent these evolving threats.

Officials who appeared before the committee included The Honorable Frank Kendall, Air Force Secretary; General Charles Brown, Jr., Air Force Chief of Staff; and General B. Chance Saltzman, Space Force Chief of Space Operations.

Earlier this month, Tester brought Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall and top Air Force leadership to Malmstrom Air Force Base and the Montana Air National Guard’s 120th Airlift Wing to meet directly with servicemembers and receive updates on Malmstrom’s response to the Chinese spy balloon.

Additionally, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed Tester’s bipartisan resolution condemning the Chinese spy balloon. Tester also led the first public briefing with Administration officials on the Chinese spy balloon where he demanded answers from Biden Administration officials on the actions that were taken and on what the plan is for addressing future unidentified objects that enter U.S. airspace.