Esper, Pompeo Urge Biden to Shoot Down 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.
February 3, 2023Updated: February 7, 2023

Former Trump administration officials are calling out the Biden administration for its failure to shoot down or otherwise capture a Chinese spy balloon currently flying over the continental United States.

Former Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said that the United States should attempt to capture the spy balloon, which entered U.S. airspace earlier this week, or else shoot it down immediately.

“They’re obviously looking for something,” Esper said during an interview with CNN on Feb. 3. “They need information that I would assume they can’t get through satellites.”

“I would be very interested in getting a hold of whatever the payload is and understanding exactly what they’re looking for and why.”

Esper added that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which rules China as a single-party state, had been engaged in espionage against the United States for decades, and that failure to counter this latest move would weaken the United States’ position internationally.

“The Chinese have been spying on us for years. For decades,” Esper said.

“This is a brazen act. At the political level we have to push back. We have to defend American sovereignty and we have to make clear to the Chinese that we’re not going to tolerate this.”

Similarly, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the Pentagon should act to immediately shoot the CCP’s surveillance device down, and warned that the failure to do so would encourage China to take more provocative steps in the future.

“We ought to bring this darn thing down,” Pompeo said during a Friday interview with Fox. “We have the capabilities and tools to do that.”

“The fact that they’ve now penetrated our airspace, put a very visible symbol of their country over our airspace, and we have done nothing, this is a green light for bad guys all around the world including [CCP leader] Xi Jinping.”

Epoch Times Photo
A high altitude balloon floats over Billings, Mont., on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023. The U.S. is tracking a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon that has been spotted over U.S. airspace for a couple days, but the Pentagon decided not to shoot it down due to risks of harm for people on the ground, officials said Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023. The Pentagon would not confirm that the balloon in the photo was the surveillance balloon. (Larry Mayer/The Billings Gazette via AP)

Pompeo said that he was worried President Joe Biden’s inaction on the issue would show the CCP that he was unwilling to defend the United States and, likewise, unwilling to defend Taiwan from a communist invasion.

“Xi Jinping is clearly probing to see if the Biden administration is serious about never giving an inch, about protecting our country,” Pompeo said. “Today, it doesn’t appear to me that he’s prepared to push back against them in any serious way.”

“This is just another example of the Chinese Communist Party’s aggression,” Pompeo said.

“If we can’t take down this balloon, if President Biden won’t respond to this seriously, I doubt that his statement that we will defend Taiwan and help the Taiwanese people is something that Xi Jinping will ever take seriously.”

U.S. military leadership has said that the CCP spy balloon will likely stay over the United States for several days. The Biden administration has thus far justified taking no offensive action against the device on the grounds that doing so would risk the “safety and security of the people on the ground” due to concerns about falling debris.

White House spokesperson press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Friday that “The president will always put the safety and security of the American people first,” adding that the administration was “keeping all options on the table.”

Defense officials have said the military has taken unspecified mitigation measures against the spy balloon, and that the Pentagon assessed the device has “limited” value in terms of gaining intelligence it couldn’t obtain by other technologies, such as spy satellites.

“We know this is a Chinese balloon and it has the ability to maneuver,” said Pentagon spokesperson Gen. Pat Ryder on Friday.

“We assess the balloon does not present a military or physical threat to people on the ground. We will continue to monitor and review options.”