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Top defense intelligence official: Trying to 'determine exactly what' China was doing with balloon

"We'll know a little bit more" in the coming days and weeks about the Chinese spy balloon, said Ronald Moultrie, Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence and Security.

Published: February 16, 2023 10:40pm

Updated: February 17, 2023 11:01pm

Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence and Security Ronald Moultrie says the intelligence community is still working to "determine exactly what China was doing" with the spy balloon.

House Foreign Affairs Chairman Michael McCaul said over the weekend that the balloon was surveilling nuclear sites in connection with a possible Chinese invasion of Taiwan.

"When I saw the sites that it was flying over, it was very clear to me this was an intentional act," he said. "It was done with provocation to gather intelligence data, and collect intelligence on our three major nuclear sites in this country. Why? Because they're looking at what is our capability in the event of a possible future conflict in Taiwan."

Moultrie, who testified at a House Intelligence Committee subcommittee hearing about unidentified aerial phenomena in May 2022, was asked if he agreed with McCaul's assessment. 

"We're still doing an analysis on what's happening there," Moultrie said Thursday. "I mean, look, we know it was a Chinese balloon, I think we've talked about trying to recover materials to determine exactly what they were doing. Hopefully, in the coming days and weeks, we'll have shed a little insight on what was occurring there. We'll know a little bit more.

"But right now, I think we just have to continue to do our recovery operations and continue to ensure that the airspace of our country is free from potential threats or anything else that might concern our leadership ... so we're looking at it, hopefully we'll have something in the near future that we'll be able to talk about." 

After the China balloon was shot down, 3 other unidentified objects were shot down in the U.S. over a three-day period. The nature of those objects has still not been confirmed, and debris has not been recovered yet due, in part, to poor weather conditions.

"We still don't know yet exactly what these objects were," President Biden acknowledged Thursday from the White House, although he said they were likely private or commercial balloons and that "nothing suggests" they were related to China.

Amid reports that one of the objects — downed by a $150 million U.S. fighter jet firing a $472,000 missile — may have been a $12 balloon set aloft by a hobbyist club, Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz mockingly tweeted, "To be fair, Biden is providing ... powerful deterrence for any high school science clubs that might try to invade America." 

In a separate statement, the senator wrote, "President Biden needs to tell the American people whether this is true."

Moultrie oversees the All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office (AARO), which was formed late last year to track and study unidentified aerial objects. Just the News asked Moultrie if AARO is part of the reason the U.S. is learning now about China's use of spy balloons, which reportedly has been going on for years.

"We've done some open hearings on this," he said, "and we've also had some open discussions about it, and I think we've been very open with the American people about what that is, and it's going to continue to help us understand these anomalous objects and hopefully continue to contribute to the security of our nation."

Moultrie was interviewed after speaking at the 13th annual Intelligence and National Security Alliance Achievement Awards.

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