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Montana lawmakers press Biden administration for answers on Chinese spy balloon

A screenshot of Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder giving a news briefing Friday
A screenshot of Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder giving a news briefing Friday

Members of Montana’s congressional delegation and local lawmakers are pressing the Biden administration for answers about the Chinese balloon currently moving eastward over the U.S.

The suspected surveillance balloon was first spotted Wednesday floating over Billings, where federal officials grounded flights for two hours.

During a briefing Friday, Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder gave reporters little additional information, but said the U.S. is “monitoring the situation closely [and] reviewing options.”

He disputed China’s assertion that the balloon is being used for meteorological research.

“The fact is, we know that it is a surveillance balloon,” Ryder said. “We do know that the balloon has violated U.S. airspace and international law which is unacceptable.”

Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte in a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin writes people “deserve full, prompt answers” about how and when the balloon first entered U.S. airspace.

“With disruptions to civilian aircraft in Montana, America’s national security assets in Montana, and Montanans’ concern for the lack of forthcoming information from the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and the administration,” he writes, “it is critical for DoD and the administration to be forthright” about several questions, including about the balloon’s path, and what the administration is doing to take the balloon down.

U.S. Senator Steve Daines, also in a letter to Austin, says there are concerns the balloon was targeting the Malmstrom Air Force Base in Great Falls, one of three bases in the U.S. that maintains the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile.

“Don’t be fooled by this, this was not a friendly hot air balloon flying over our state,” Daines told reporters on a call Friday. “This was a surveillance balloon. It flew over the areas of our missile fields.”

He said the administration’s lack of action is “unacceptable.”

“It’s a rather haunting image to look up and see a Chinese spy balloon hovering over our state," he said, "and we need to get to the bottom of what happened and why and make sure this never happens again."

Daines said his office heard back from the Biden administration, and he’s hoping to receive a briefing when lawmakers return to Washington next week.

Meanwhile, U.S. Senator Jon Tester on Friday announced the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, which he chairs, will hold a hearing to “get real answers on how this happened.” The hearing does not have a date yet.

Nadya joined Yellowstone Public Radio as news director in October 2021. Before coming to YPR, she spent six years as digital news editor/reporter for the NPR affiliate in Wichita, Kansas, where her work earned several Kansas Association of Broadcasters awards and a regional Edward R. Murrow award for Excellence in Social Media. Originally from Texas, Nadya has lived and worked in Colorado, Illinois, Washington, D.C.; and North Dakota. She lives in Billings with her cat, Dragon, and dog, Trooper, and enjoys hiking, crocheting, and traveling as often as possible.