Transportation Secretary: Debris Field from Shot-Down Spy Balloon Was 7 Miles Long

( – Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said Sunday that President Biden gave the U.S. military instructions to shoot down the Chinese spy balloon “in a way that was safe.”

When asked why the U.S. did not shoot down the balloon when it first entered U.S. airspace eight days ago in Alaska, Buttigieg told CNN’s “State of the Union” that Biden “gave instructions to have it handled, to have it shot down in a way that was safe.”

As you may have seen, there’s reporting now that the debris field that was created by this balloon when it was shot down was about seven miles’ long, and so any time the military is considering an operation like that, they have to consider the safety of the American people.

The president called for this to be dealt with in a way that balanced all of the different risks. That’s exactly what happened. The military did a terrific job. From our perspective in the DOT, of course, our main concern is the safety of the national airspace.

This thing was above where flight operations happen, and so any debris would have passed through that national airspace. 

Look, the FAA works very closely with the Pentagon, in this case, had to do ground stops on those airports on the Eastern Seaboard, close off some of the airspace to make sure that everything was safe and secure during the operation, and, as you know, the operation took place without any damage or injury to any American lives or property.

When asked whether it was acceptable to wait eight days for the spy balloon to fly all the way to the Carolinas, the secretary said, “As the U.S. has communicated, it’s not acceptable at all that China sent this object into our airspace, but in terms of how to handle it, that’s something that was done based on assessment of the risks, making sure that there was no risks that outweighed the risks in terms of any damage that would come, and it was handled appropriately.”

Buttigieg said that he couldn’t tell if anything had been recovered from the spy balloon.

“I really can’t, and anything on the tactics and the timing and the manner of it ultimately, of course, comes to the Pentagon. I’m just glad that there was no damage or threat to U.S. aviation operations, and that this operation took place, was done in a very effective, excellent way, as you would expect from the American military, without any consequences for Americans on the ground,” he said.


CNN’s Jake Tapper pointed out that the balloon may have flown over and gathered intelligence from sensitive parts of U.S. infrastructure. 

“There’s Malmstrom Air Force Base and nuclear ballistic missile fields in Montana, if you look at the map there, Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, Scott Air Force Base in Illinois, Fort Bragg and Camp Lejeune in North Carolina,” he said. “Is the assumption that the balloon was able to gather sensitive information and transmit it back to the Chinese government?”

“Well, the U.S. has stated that steps were taken to prevent any problems in terms of intelligence collection. Remember, we are talking about a country that has a space program. So, I don’t know all the ins and outs of what this balloon was doing or what its capabilities were,” Buttigieg said.

“I do know that, when the president gave the order to have this handled, the military gauged the different risks and the different benefits of different approaches, made the decisions that they did, brought this thing down without incident,” he said.

TAPPER: Right, but the presumption has got to be that the Chinese were able to gather intelligence hovering over the United States for day after day, especially over some of these sensitive sites.

BUTTIGIEG: I’m sure there’s a similar presumption about what spy satellites do. That is well outside of my lane. I’m just glad that nobody was hurt as this thing came down.

TAPPER: When did the Biden administration first learn about this balloon, this spy balloon, entering U.S. airspace? We’re told it first did so, it first entered U.S. airspace over Alaska two Saturdays ago. Is that when the Biden administration learned about it?

BUTTIGIEG: I really can’t speak to that. What I can speak to is the great cooperation we have between the FAA and the Pentagon to make sure that, when you have a special military operation like what it took to bring down this balloon, that it happens without any threat to American luxury property.

TAPPER: Lastly, on this topic, will there be consequences beyond shooting it down? Will the Chinese government be — sanctions — or sanctioned or penalized in any way?

BUTTIGIEG: Well, the U.S. has made clear this is an unacceptable intrusion into American sovereignty, and I think you can expect that any further developments will be in — appropriate in response to what happened.


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