Days after the United States shot down three unidentified objects flying over North America, lawmakers are frustrated with the limited information the Biden administration has thus far provided about what is taking place and who is responsible.
Congressmen told the Washington Free Beacon the dearth of information makes it difficult to perform emergency oversight work and plot a course of action to deal with these mysterious incidents going forward. The lack of communication from the White House is also adding to fears the United States is facing a new national security threat but is not equipped to properly deal with it, according to Rep. Jim Banks (R., Ind.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee.
"It’s hard to say whether the administration is trigger happy or prudent because Congress hasn’t received a substantive briefing since the first spy balloon was shot down," Banks told the Free Beacon. "The Biden DOD has said that these three objects threatened our national security, and if they did it’s unacceptable for Congress to be kept in the dark."
The incidents triggered panic across the United States as airspace over several states was shut down so that military planes could destroy the objects. While the initial balloon was described by U.S. officials as a spy device, they are not providing information about the subsequent three objects. The first was detected on Feb. 10 above Alaska and shot down, and then a second object flew near the U.S.-Canada border the next day, triggering a joint operation to destroy it. On Feb. 12, a third object was spotted over Lake Huron and was shot down at the White House’s request.
Rep. Michael Waltz (R., Fla.), also a member of the House Armed Services Committee, told the Free Beacon that lawmakers "just don’t know the extent" of what is taking place. "The Biden administration needs to tell us what exactly the policy is as it pertains to shooting down objects in our airspace."
The weekend incidents also raise questions after the Chinese spy balloon was permitted to fly across most of the country, according to Waltz. "Why would the Biden administration allow a massive Chinese spy balloon to cross the continental U.S. at 60,000 feet yet shoot down smaller objects at 40,000 feet? Joe Biden needs to be directly addressing this issue himself and be truthful with the American people about what we know and don’t know."
An informational document sourced from the Defense Department that is circulating among congressional offices includes little-to-no information about what was shot down during three separate operations, according to a copy of the memo reviewed by the Free Beacon.
"We have no further details about the object at this time, including the full scope of its capabilities, its purpose, or its origin," the document states with regard to each of the three objects that were shot down in the wake of the Chinese spy balloon’s traversal across the nation last week.
The information provided to lawmakers does indicate the objects may have been surveilling American military installations.
The Feb. 10 operation over Alaska was conducted after "the Secretary of Defense determined the object was a potential surveillance threat to DOD facilities and assets," according to the informational document circulating in Congress. "Additionally, the object was flying at an altitude of 40,000 feet, posing a reasonable threat to safety of civilian flight."
The third object shot down on Feb. 12 had a "flight path and altitude [that] raised concerns that it could be a hazard to civil aviation and a threat due to the potential it was carrying surveillance equipment," according to the Pentagon’s information. "Based on its flight path and data, NORTHCOM/NORAD assessed that the object could reasonably be connected to an earlier the [sic] radar signal picked up over Montana, which flew in proximity to sensitive DOD sites."
Rep. Darrell Issa (R., Calif.), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told the Free Beacon the White House has "decided that since they don’t have good spin, they’ll provide no information at all to the country and the Congress. Not even close to good enough."
While some senators were briefed about the matter on Tuesday afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) indicated the Biden administration is being "very careful and very thoughtful" about what details it discloses. Much of it cannot be made public because it is classified or "on the edge of classified," according to Schumer.
Rep. Mike Gallagher (R., Wis.), whose district was subject to airspace closures as a result of the weekend operations, said the Biden administration’s military secrecy is unwarranted.
"There are times to err on the side of secrecy in national security operations. But when our fighter pilots are shooting down presumably hostile aerial objects all across America, it’s long past time for transparency," Gallagher told the Free Beacon in a statement.
The lawmaker said he is disturbed by reports that the objects were only detected after the United States altered its radar systems’ filters to more easily spot slower-moving objects like those detected over the weekend.
"If true, we are potentially looking at one of the most staggering intelligence failures since 9/11," Gallagher said. "How long have these objects operated in our airspace with impunity? How long has the Pentagon been aware of them?"
Congress, Gallagher added, "has urgent and vital oversight interests in all these questions, and most importantly, the American people deserve to know what’s going on in the skies above their homes."