Pentagon official Colin Kahl leaked classified information about the Chinese spy balloon to deflect blame about the Biden administration’s mishandling of the situation, according to two Republican senators.
Kahl, whom President Joe Biden appointed his under secretary of defense for policy, provided reporters with classified information—disclosing that CCP spy balloons may have infiltrated the United States during the Trump administration—Sens. Roger Wicker (R., Miss.) and Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) allege. This is the first time that Kahl has been named as the source of these leaks, which were provided to reporters and appeared in news stories at CNN, Bloomberg, and the Washington Post, in an apparent attempt to shift blame away from Biden after the administration allowed the Chinese spy balloon to traverse the entire United States before shooting it down. While doing so, he omitted the fact that the prior Chinese balloons were only discovered much later and the Trump administration did not have an opportunity to respond at the time.
"It remains unclear whether this leak was cleared internally through the proper channels. Either way, it was a brazen attempt to shift blame," the senators wrote in a letter sent Wednesday to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.
This news is reigniting Republican scorn over Biden’s decision to place Kahl, who oversaw the botched 2021 withdrawal from Afghanistan, in the Pentagon’s top policy post. Every single Republican senator opposed his nomination, and congressional sources who spoke to the Washington Free Beacon said Kahl’s weaponization of classified materials could prompt oversight investigations.
Wicker and Rubio are pressing the Pentagon to hold Kahl "accountable for his politicization of previously classified material."
"This type of behavior is the reason every Senate Republican voted against Dr. Kahl’s nomination in 2021," the senators write.
As the administration grapples with the political fallout over its decision to let the balloon travel across America, "Kahl appears to be spearheading a communications strategy that aims to hide the administration's early missteps," the senators allege in their letter. And in briefings with senators, Kahl and other officials sidestepped "questions regarding the U.S. government's knowledge and actions prior to the shoot-down."
Kahl, who is known for sporting a man purse and spends large amounts of time assembling lists about his musical taste, also has refused to answer questions about when the Biden administration first spotted the Chinese balloon. The senators claim that classified briefings provided by administration officials did not provide a clear picture of how the balloon was allowed to travel so far across the United States.
The senators are demanding the Pentagon provide them with information about exactly when senior Biden administration officials learned of the spy balloon and "at what point you, and the president, were provided response options."
Thus far, the administration has provided conflicting answers about when it knew about the balloon. U.S. Northern Command is believed to have spotted the spy balloon on Jan. 28, when it was over the Aleutian Islands, but top Pentagon leaders like Austin and Kahl did not know of it until several days later, "by which point the balloon had traversed Alaska and Canada and re-entered the United States," according to Wicker and Rubio.
The lawmakers say they will not end their oversight efforts until all of the outstanding questions are answered.
"It is imperative for Congress to understand why this Chinese surveillance balloon was not stopped sooner so we can help the Department of Defense and the intelligence community better protect our airspace," they write.
One senior congressional source working on the matter told the Free Beacon that Kahl’s efforts to deflect blame are "already rubbing people the wrong way" on Capitol Hill. "There’s no question the appetite to hold Kahl accountable for his partisan behavior is growing larger."