In a very tense classified briefing meeting Thursday morning, several Republicans criticized the Biden administration’s handling of the suspected Chinese spy balloon, including conservatives Marjorie Taylor Greene, Matt Rosendale and Andy Ogles, according to sources familiar with the briefing.
Greene said that the Pentagon made the president look weak, prompting the briefers to try to lay out a detailed timeline of the actions, the sources said.
President Joe Biden gave the order to shoot down the balloon whenever the Pentagon felt it was safe to do so, sources said, and the Pentagon ultimately made the call on when that action was appropriate.
Some GOP lawmakers have raised pointed questions about why the Biden administration did not move to shoot down the balloon before it crossed down into the continental US – either while it was over Alaska or sooner.
Once it was over US territory, officials previously argued that the benefits of gathering additional intelligence on the balloon as it passed over far outweighed the risk of shooting it down over land.
In Thursday’s briefing, officials said they didn’t move earlier to shoot down the balloon in part over fears it could provoke an escalation of military tensions with China or even a military conflict. They said they were limited on what actions they could take given the protocols they have to follow in engaging militarily, they argued, according to similar sources.
The US has assessed that little new intelligence was gleaned from the balloon’s operation because the Chinese appeared to stop transmitting to the mainland once the US learned of the balloon, sources said. Also, the US has protocols to protect its sensitive intelligence in case of such spying operations and implemented those protocols.
Sources familiar with the briefings said it was discussed that the US believes that the order to send the balloon was dispatched by a part of the Chinese government without President Xi Jinping’s knowledge and that it is unclear what the motivation was.