Proposed Defense Bill Mandates Investigation Into US Parts in Chinese Spy Balloon

By Andrew Thornebrooke
Andrew Thornebrooke
Andrew Thornebrooke
National Security Correspondent
Andrew Thornebrooke is a national security correspondent for The Epoch Times covering China-related issues with a focus on defense, military affairs, and national security. He holds a master's in military history from Norwich University.
July 14, 2023Updated: July 16, 2023

A new amendment to critical national defense legislation would require the Biden administration to investigate how American technologies wound up in a Chinese spy balloon and how to prevent it from happening again.

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), who’s leading a Senate investigation into the Chinese spy balloon that traversed the continental United States in February, said that he would introduce the amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which funds the year’s defense budget.

The amendment would require the federal government to assess how commercial technologies can be used by foreign espionage programs and how to prevent that from happening in the future.

Mr. Tester’s announcement of the amendment comes shortly after a report by The Wall Street Journal found that the spy balloon contained some parts that were originally manufactured in the United States.

“This brazen incursion of the Chinese Spy Balloon into U.S. airspace was unacceptable, and we can’t let it happen again,” Mr. Tester said in a July 13 statement.

“I was disturbed to learn the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) took advantage of American technology during the incursion, and we need a full accounting of any and all commercially available technology that is being turned on Americans in foreign espionage programs.”

China Used US Tech to Spy on Nuclear Facilities

The Chinese spy balloon first entered the airspace over the continental United States above Mr. Tester’s state of Montana. From there, it proceeded to fly over three sites associated with the United States’ nuclear program: Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana, Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, and Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri.

Malmstrom contains 150 of the United States’ 400 nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile silos. Offutt is home to U.S. Strategic Command, which oversees the U.S. military’s nuclear arsenal. Whiteman operates the Air Force’s nuclear-capable B-2 stealth bomber.

The White House confirmed that a spy balloon program linked to China’s military targeted the United States and its allies for espionage. The Senate followed this by formally condemning the incident as an invasion of U.S. territory by China’s communist regime.

The revelation that the device relied on U.S.-made technologies to conduct its mission has added to fears that the flow of advanced technologies from the nation to China’s communist regime is continuing largely unabated.

The regime claimed that the balloon was a civilian airship.

Mr. Tester, who serves as chair for the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, said during a February hearing that he would hold to account those responsible for allowing the balloon to enter U.S. airspace.

“Make no mistake about it, what China did last week was completely unacceptable and a real threat to American sovereignty,” Mr. Tester said at the time. “It deserves a real response from a united America.

“I am prepared to hold anyone accountable, including the people seated before this committee today, to get real answers. This administration owes Americans answers not only on what happened this week, but on what steps they’re going to take to ensure that this never happens again.”

Amendment Mandates Investigation, Congressional Report

Mr. Tester’s bipartisan amendment to the NDAA would also mandate that a report be made to Congress about its proposed threat assessment and would direct the Departments of Commerce, State, and the Treasury to use that report when modifying export controls.

By doing this, Mr. Tester believes that the administration can better ensure that American-made technology doesn’t make its way into the CCP’s hands.

To that end, on July 12, he also issued an open letter to key members of the Biden administration that demanded that the administration investigate how American-made technologies came to be used in the CCP spy balloon.

“The fact that the Chinese Communist Party was able to use our technology in their spy program is extremely troubling and must be immediately analyzed,” Mr. Tester wrote in the letter, which was addressed to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.

“This is a clear demonstration that our current defense and technology export controls may not be adequately preventing or dissuading adversaries from using our own technology against us.”

Mr. Tester is also seeking to increase the defense budget to ensure that the Pentagon can better address emerging threats from the CCP.

With that in mind, he wrote in his letter that the administration owed it to the American people to get answers as to how the whole incident was allowed to occur in the first place, and said that further increasing export controls to prevent the flow of technology to China is necessary.

“Montanans want answers and the assurance this won’t happen again, and this provision is a step in the right direction,” Mr. Tester wrote.

“I expect this Administration, and the individual departments you oversee, to take whatever necessary action is required to bolster our export controls so that this doesn’t happen again.”