Politics

New photos show the Navy recovering downed China spy balloon off U.S. coast

Key Points
  • The U.S. Navy released photos showing the recovery of the remnants of a Chinese spy balloon that was shot down on the orders of President Joe Biden off the coast of South Carolina.
  • The photos were taken a day after an American fighter jet fired on the 200-foot-tall balloon, sending it hurtling down into the Atlantic Ocean.
  • Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the Biden administration "is looking at other actions that can be taken" in response to the balloon, and called U.S.-China relations "tense."
  • Biden's "decision to let the [Chinese Communist Party] balloons travel the length and breadth of the" U.S. "was an unpardonable show of weakness," said Rep. Ann Wagner, a Missouri Republican.
Sailors assigned to Explosive Ordnance Disposal Group 2 recover a high-altitude surveillance balloon off the coast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Feb. 5, 2023.
Photo: U.S. Navy

The U.S. Navy on Tuesday released photos showing the recovery of the remnants of a Chinese spy balloon that was shot down over the weekend on the orders of President Joe Biden off the coast of South Carolina.

The photos were taken Sunday, a day after an American fighter jet fired on the 200-foot-tall balloon, sending it hurtling down into the Atlantic Ocean in a dramatic scene caught live on TV.

China has claimed that the balloon, which first was spotted by the public flying over Montana last Wednesday, was a wayward "civilian unmanned airship" that was primarily conducting weather research.

Sailors assigned to Explosive Ordnance Disposal Group 2 recover a high-altitude surveillance balloon off the coast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Feb. 5, 2023.
Photo: U.S. Navy

But Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has said the balloon was being used by China "in an attempt to surveil strategic sites in the continental United States."

Five Navy ships were involved in the effort to recover debris from the balloon over a 10-square-mile search area off the coast of Myrtle Beach.

The debris field was the size of 1,500 square meters, according to officials, who said the balloon's payload weighed more than a ton.

American missile shoots down suspected Chinese spy balloon
VIDEO1:0501:05
American missile shoots down suspected Chinese spy balloon

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Tuesday told reporters that the Biden administration "is looking at other actions that can be taken" in response to the balloon.

Schumer, a New York Democrat, said the current state of relations between the U.S. and China is "tense."

Sailors assigned to Explosive Ordnance Disposal Group 2 recover a high-altitude surveillance balloon off the coast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Feb. 5, 2023.
Photo: U.S. Navy

After the balloon was spotted, but before it was shot down, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken canceled a planned trip to China.

During a hearing on Capitol Hill, Rep. David Scott, D-Ga., said he "loves" Biden but disagreed with the dayslong delay in shooting down the balloon because of the time it gave the Chinese to collect additional data and intelligence by the aircraft flying over the U.S.

In response, a witness at the hearing, former National Security Council and National Economic Council member Peter Harrell, said that Blinken's decision to postpone his trip to China is the start of a response, not the end.

Sailors assigned to Explosive Ordnance Disposal Group 2 recover a high-altitude surveillance balloon off the coast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Feb. 5, 2023.
Photo: U.S. Navy

Rep. Ann Wagner, a Missouri Republican, said she and her family watched as the balloon flew over her home state.

"President Biden's decision to let the [Chinese Communist Party] balloons travel the length and breadth of the United States of America was an unpardonable show of weakness on the world stage," Wagner said.

"I am calling on the administration to restore America's ability to deter reckless provocations. The stakes of strategic competition with China are exceedingly high," she said. "And if the CCP's influence continues to spread and unchallenged, American communities will pay a price."

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Monday that the balloon is suspected of being the fifth Chinese surveillance balloon detected over the continental U.S. since 2017.

Kirby said three of those balloons flew over the U.S. during the Trump administration, while there was another one during Biden's tenure in the White House besides this most recent one.

Sailors assigned to Explosive Ordnance Disposal Group 2 recover a high-altitude surveillance balloon off the coast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Feb. 5, 2023.
Photo: U.S. Navy

Former President Donald Trump has said he was never informed that a Chinese balloon had passed over the U.S. when he was in office.

Kirby said the three balloons during Trump's tenure were only discovered after he left office in January 2021.

Additional reporting by CNBC's Amanda Macias.