Speaking at a think-tank event at the Hudson Institute on Thursday, Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK) stated that the Pentagon had denied a request from the 11th Air Force in Alaska to shoot down the Chinese surveillance balloon before it entered U.S. air space.
The Biden administration and President Joe Biden himself continue to face criticism for their refusal to shoot down the surveillance balloon until after it had traversed the U.S. and flew over sensitive sites, instead choosing to shoot the balloon down off the Carolina coast. The balloon had entered the U.S. through Alaska’s Aleutian Islands on January 28, traveling through Canada and entering the U.S. again through northern Idaho on January 31.
Now it has become clear that this wasn’t just a mistake or a concern about the consequences of falling debris over territory with civilians at risk, as the Biden administration had the ability to shoot down China’s surveillance balloon while it posed little to no risk at all — but instead chose to let the balloon complete its mission.
During his speech, Sullivan stated that F-22 and F-35 fighter jets from the 11th Air Force — which is part of the North America Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) — had tracked the surveillance balloon “from far away” and had requested permission to shoot it down before the object entered U.S. air space on January 28. That request was reportedly denied.
“Our Alaska commanders requested permission to shoot it down. Was denied,” the Alaska Republican said, according to the Financial Times. “I’m not sure that’s public, but it’s a fact.”
Speaking with the outlet, Pentagon press secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder revealed that NORAD Commander Gen. Glen VanHerck had instead told the 11th Air Force to “identify and monitor the high altitude balloon.”
He also stated that VanHerck had claimed the Chinese surveillance balloon “did not present an immediate military threat.”
Ryan went on to note that the NORAD commander had elevated the decision to a “higher authority” while NORAD and Northern Command continued to “develop options.”
The Pentagon has still refused to explain details of when the surveillance balloon was first tracked and where, nor have they provided answers as to why it was not shot down before entering U.S. airspace and flying over sensitive military sites.
The Biden administration appeared to have no plans to inform the American people about the spy balloon’s existence, as the news was only made public after civilians discovered it flying over Montana.
While the Pentagon has claimed that it was making plans to announce the presence of the surveillance balloon, they have not provided any evidence to back up their claims.
Critics on both sides of the aisle have condemned the Biden administration’s delay in shooting down the balloon, with many arguing that it should have been downed immediately upon discovery. The revelation from Sullivan regarding the opportunity to shoot down the balloon will likely just reinforce these criticisms.