U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg parried Jake Tapper’s questions Sunday like he adhered to Muhammed Ali’s rope-a-dope strategy.
CNN’s “State of the Union” host Jake Tapper grilled him about a Chinese spy balloon that lazily traveled above the U.S. for about two weeks. When Buttigieg noted a military jet shot the balloon down Saturday with a missile when it cleared South Carolina’s coast, the CNN host noted the balloon was in U.S. skies for almost two weeks before it was destroyed by the military.
“Once it became clear this was not an accident, why did the U.S. not shoot it down then,” demanded Tapper. “Is it acceptable that there were eight days that the spy balloon was over the United States, then Canada, then again over the United States, from Idaho, Montana, all the way through the Carolinas for day after day?”
Buttigieg acknowledged the balloon should have been shot down sooner, claiming the president gave instructions to shoot it down when it was safe to do so. He noted the military balanced national security risks against possible loss of American life and property damage, though, to determine when to down it.
“In terms of how to handle it, that’s something that was done based on assessment of the risks, making sure that there was no risks that outweighed the risks in terms of any damage that would come, and it was handled appropriately,” Buttigieg stated. He added that the debris field from the destroyed balloon stretched approximately seven miles over the Atlantic Ocean.
“The operation took place without any damage or injury to any American life or property,” Buttigieg emphasized.
The host asked the secretary if he could discuss anything recovered from the debris field of the downed spy balloon that would aid U.S. intelligence gathering about Chinese capabilities.
Tapper expressed concern the spy balloon might have gathered intelligence as it flew over numerous U.S. military bases and nuclear ballistic missile fields. He matched sightings of the balloon over silo stations such as Montana’s Malmstrom Air Force Base, Missouri’s Whiteman Air Force Base, Scott Air Force Base in Illinois and North Carolina’s Camp Lejeune and Fort Bragg military bases.
“Is the assumption that the balloon was able to gather sensitive information and transmit it back to the Chinese government?” Tapper asked Buttigieg.
Buttigieg said, “The U.S. has stated that steps were taken to prevent any problems in terms of intelligence collection. Remember, we are talking about a country that has a space program.”
He responded to a Tapper question about whether the balloon was able to gather intelligence by noting satellites do, too, and he ducked answering by saying those things are outside of his lane.
“When did the Biden administration first learn about this balloon, this spy balloon, entering U.S. airspace?” Tapper asked. “We’re told it first did so, it first entered U.S. airspace over Alaska two Saturdays ago. Is that when the Biden administration learned about it?”
“I really can’t speak to that,” Buttigieg replied, “but what I can speak about is the great cooperation we have between the FAA and the Pentagon to make sure that when you have a special military operation like what it took to bring down this balloon, that happens without any threat to American lives or property.”
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