Navy Divers Work on Recovering China Surveillance Balloon Debris with Navy, Coast Guard Ships on Site

Navy divers are hard at recovering debris from the suspected Chinese spy balloon shot down by the U.S. over the Pacific off the coast of South Carolina on Saturday. 

U.S. Coast Guard and Navy ships arrived at the site where the balloon entered the water on Saturday and soon established a perimeter around the area. Officials at the Pentagon say the recovery effort is likely relatively simple due to the shallow depth of fewer than 50 feet. However, the recovery could take days. 

The U.S. military had put several Coast Guard and Navy vessels on alert before the shooting down of the balloon. Efforts for recovery began later Saturday and will continue on Sunday, with divers facing hardly any obstacles aside from cold water temperatures, according to reports from the New York Times. 

In a statement, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the balloon was an “unacceptable violation of our sovereignty” and was being used to surveil “strategic sites” in the U.S. President Biden authorized the shooting down of the balloon last week. Still, the military waited until it was over open water. 

Defense officials said the U.S. ‘limited’ the capability of the balloon to gather information during its journey across the country but have yet to elaborate further. 

“I would also note that while we took all necessary steps to protect against the [Chinese] surveillance balloon’s collection of sensitive information, the surveillance balloon’s overflight of U.S. territory was of intelligence value to us,” said an official. “I can’t go into more detail, but we were able to study and scrutinize the balloon and its equipment, which has been valuable.”

Republicans raising questions over why it took so long to shoot down spy balloon

GOP members on Capitol Hill have questioned why the president permitted the balloon to travel across the continental United States before shooting it down. Americans first detected the craft over Montana, although the Pentagon said they had already been tracking it.

Republican Representative Mike Rogers of Alabama, who chairs the House Armed Services Committee, contends that the Biden administration had “hoped to hide” the balloon’s existence from Americans as it floated from the West Coast to the East Coast. 

Rogers blasted the president as weak for allowing the balloon to travel across the country before it was shot down. He also called for a transparent look at what intelligence the balloon craft may have gathered. 

“I applaud our service members for completing a successful mission to neutralize a spy balloon sent by the Chinese Communist Party,” wrote Rogers in a statement. “I remain deeply concerned by the Biden administration’s decision to allow the spy balloon to traverse the United States.”

“The Biden administration reportedly learned of the CCP spy balloon on Jan. 28 — nearly a week before residents in Montana spotted the balloon loitering over their state. It’s clear the Biden administration had hoped to hide this national security failure from Congress and the American people. Now, the White House must provide answers about why they decided to allow a CCP spy balloon to cross the United States and what damage to our national security occurred from this decision. The United States must project strength to deter China — this failure is another example of weakness by the Biden administration,” continued Rogers.