Rep. Stewart: Lessons to be learned from Chinese spy balloon

Feb 7, 2023, 7:30 PM | Updated: Feb 8, 2023, 7:23 am

A high altitude balloon floats over Billings, Mont., on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023. The huge, high-alt...

A high altitude balloon floats over Billings, Mont., on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023. The huge, high-altitude Chinese balloon sailed across the U.S. on Friday, drawing severe Pentagon accusations of spying and sending excited or alarmed Americans outside with binoculars. Secretary of State Antony Blinken abruptly canceled a high-stakes Beijing trip aimed at easing U..S.-China tensions. A Utah expert joined Dave and Dujanovic on Thursday to discuss the relationship with China and what were the mystery objects shot down over the weekend. (Larry Mayer/The Billings Gazette via AP)

(Larry Mayer/The Billings Gazette via AP)

SALT LAKE CITY — A Chinese spy balloon that floated from Alaska all the way to South Carolina before being shot down has been the topic of a lot of conversation in recent days.

Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) joined Dave and Dujanovic with hosts Dave Noriega and Debbie Dujanovic on Tuesday to discuss the matter. Despite the balloon being spotted in Montana, he doesn’t believe the balloon ever flew over Utah.

Dujanovic said, “This is scary to me that another country could potentially float a balloon, go undetected all across the United States. And maybe we just got lucky that there was nothing on board that could harm Americans.”

“Yeah, this is actually a complicated story,” Stewart said. “And it’s becoming more and more complicated as time goes by.”

Stewart says he spent a couple of hours in an intel committee getting the low down on the situation. He now says he understands the situation better.

“There’s some lessons we need to take from this,” he said. “Very clearly, (there) was a gap in our awareness and in our preparedness to counter this activity by China.”

Lessons to be learned from the Chinese spy balloon

Stewart says the gap isn’t something that can’t be filled but stresses the importance of the lessons learned from this situation.

He is also clear that this is something that should never happen again.

“Our policy should be very straightforward from this point forward,” Stewart said. “And that is we will not allow Chinese assets such as this to penetrate the United States airspace and to loiter over very sensitive parts of our country as we have allowed over the past week.”

Stewart says China was aware the United States would see the balloon.

“China knew that we would observe the balloon,” he said. “You could see it from the ground. It was only 60 to 70,000 feet. They knew it would be seen, and they would (know) that we knew it was there.”

Noreiga asked, “Would you have supported shooting it out of the air, regardless of where it landed?”

“I don’t think we had to,” Stewart said. “That wasn’t the choice we are faced with. We could have destroyed this thing before it entered over our mainland.”

Stewart references the air defense identification zone, which is essentially U.S. airspace in the ocean. 

“We could have and should have destroyed it,” he said.

Any information collected, and did it fly over Utah?

Dujanovic asked, “Were they able to collect any information that they wouldn’t have gotten otherwise from satellite imagery?”

“The answer is almost certainly yes,” Stewart said. “It doesn’t take an intelligence analyst to know that. It just takes common sense. They wouldn’t send these balloons if they didn’t provide some value. And you know, you can see things in more detail at 60,000 feet than you can at 100 miles.”

Dujanovic asked, “Did this balloon, this Chinese spy balloon, did it fly over Utah?” 

“I don’t have any reason to believe that it did,” Stewart said. “.. . And there’s some maneuverability in these balloons, but they really are generally guided by the winds at altitude.”


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Rep. Stewart: Lessons to be learned from Chinese spy balloon