Steve Daines demands Pentagon briefing on balloon spotted over Montana

Sen. Steve Daines of Montana wants a full briefing from the Pentagon on a Chinese balloon that was spotted high over his state this week.

Mr. Daines, a Republican, told Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin he is worried the balloon is part of an intelligence-gathering mission aimed at the Malmstrom Air Force Base and U.S. intercontinental ballistic missile fields.

“Given the serious nature of the event, I am requesting a full security briefing from the administration on this situation,” Mr. Daines wrote Thursday in a letter to Mr. Austin. “It is vital to establish the flight path of this balloon, any compromised U.S. national security assets, and all telecom or IT infrastructure on the ground within the U.S. that this spy balloon was utilizing.”

Defense Department officials spotted the balloon this week but said they’re not planning to shoot it down because of possible damage from resulting debris.

The Pentagon declined to say how large the Chinese balloon is, but it was large enough to be spotted by pilots, even though it’s above commercial air traffic. The DOD also said it worked to make sure the balloon cannot collect sensitive information.

“We know exactly where this balloon is and exactly what it is passing over,” a senior official said Thursday. “We are taking steps to be extra vigilant so we can mitigate any foreign intelligence risk.”

The discovery occurred days before Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrives in Beijing for weekend talks.

Pressed on the balloon Friday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning told reporters the communist government is looking into it.

“China is a responsible country and has always strictly abided by international laws, and China has no intention of violating the territory and airspace of any sovereign country,” she said.

Mr. Daines said he needs more assurance.

“Given the increased hostility and destabilization around the globe aimed at the United States and our allies, I am alarmed by the fact that this spy balloon was able to infiltrate the airspace of our country and Montana,” Mr. Daines wrote Mr. Austin. “There is no higher priority for your administration than the safety and security of the American people, and it is imperative that your administration reassure them of that fact at this time.”

Mike Glenn contributed to this story.

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