(CNSNews.com) – The Chinese surveillance balloon shot down by the U.S. Air Force on February 4 “went over three of our most sensitive nuclear sites,” on a mission to obtain intelligence on the U.S. nuclear capability in preparation for a potential future conflict over Taiwan, Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) charged on Sunday.
In appearances on Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures” and CBS’ “Face the Nation,” McCaul said the Chinese balloon’s route across the U.S. had taken it close to the Malmstrom Air Force Base in central Montana, U.S. Strategic Command near Omaha, Nebraska, and the Whiteman Air Force Base in central Missouri.
Malmstrom AFB is one of three across the Great Plains where silo-based Minuteman III intercontinental missiles are housed. Whiteman AFB is the home base of the U.S. Air Force’s 20 B-2 Spirit strategic stealth bombers. USSTRATCOM has operational command and control of the nation’s global strategic forces. McCaul said the base in Nebraska is “so sensitive that President Bush was taken there after 9/11.”
McCaul told Fox News’ Maria Bartiromo that Beijing wants “to get imagery, get intelligence on our military capability, particularly nuclear.”
“They are preparing for a military conflict, and they’re trying to collect information about our military capabilities in the United States in preparation for that conflict,” he said. “There’s no question about it in my mind.”
“And that’s why that balloon was so dangerous, and it was so dangerous for the president to allow it to go forward. Once it entered U.S. airspace around Alaska it should have been immediately shot down. It was not, and now the damage is severe in terms of compromising national security.”
“He can’t secure our borders,” McCaul said of President Biden. “But now he can’t secure our airspace over the United States of America.”
McCaul drew attention to the path of the balloon in his CBS interview as well, telling host Margaret Brennan that when he saw the sensitive military installations it flew over, “it was very clear to me this was an intentional act.”
“It was done with provocation to gather intelligence data and collect intelligence on our three major nuclear sites in this country,” he said. “Why? Because they’re looking at what – what is our capability in the event of a possible future conflict in Taiwan. They’re really assessing what we have in this country.”
Brennan pointed out that the administration has said it took steps to mitigate the impact of the balloon’s surveillance over the U.S., before it was shot down after crossing the coast of South Carolina.
“They say they mitigated it,” McCaul said. “But my assessment, and – and I can’t get into the detail of the intelligence document – is that, if it was still transmitting going over these three very sensitive nuclear sites, I think, I think if you look at the flight pattern of the balloon, it tells a story as to what the Chinese were up to as they controlled this aircraft throughout the United States.”
“Going over those sites, in my judgment, would cause great damage,” he added. “Remember, a balloon could see a lot more on the ground than a satellite.”
China claims that the airship was a civilian balloon, used for “mainly meteorological,” research that had blown off course, and sharply protested the U.S. decision to shoot it down.
Taiwan is a self-ruled island democracy of almost 24 million people that China claims as its own territory.
Although Washington switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979, under the Taiwan Relations Act signed that same year the U.S. is committed to provide Taiwan with the military means to defend itself. The U.S. also opposes any unilateral change to the finely-balanced status quo across the Taiwan Strait
General Mike Minihan, head of the Illinois-based Air Mobility Command said next year’s presidential election in Taiwan could provide Chinese President Xi Jinping with the excuse for aggression, while the U.S. would be distracted by its own presidential election campaign.
“Xi’s team, reason, and opportunity are all aligned for 2025,” wrote Minihan, who until mid-2021 served as deputy commander of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command.
A Pentagon official told media outlets that his remarks “are not representative of the department’s view on China.”
Commenting on the memo at the time, McCaul told “Fox News Sunday” that he hoped Minihan was wrong, but added, “I think he is right though, unfortunately.”
McCaul said if Beijing failed to achieve what it calls “reunification” without using force, then it may well resort to “a military invasion.”
Like Minihan, McCaul pointed to the early 2024 election in Taiwan as a potential catalyst.
Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen cannot stand for a third term, but Beijing reviles her pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), and it has taken a far tougher approach to Taiwan under DPP administrations than when governed by the Kuomintang (KMT), which it regards as more compliant.
Neither major party has finalized its flagbearer yet. Opinion polls in December placed one likely DPP candidate, party chairman and current Vice President Lai Ching-te, at 42 percent, just two points above a potential KMT candidate, Taipei mayor Hou You-yi.
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