Navy Divers Work To Recover Debris From Chinese Spy Balloon

Navy Divers Work to Recover Debris From Chinese Spy Balloon

Navy Divers Work To Recover Debris From Chinese Spy Balloon

The effort off the coast of South Carolina is expected to take days. Navy and Coast Guard ships have been sent to the scene.

WASHINGTON — Navy divers were working to locate portions of the debris from the Chinese spy balloon that a U.S. fighter jet shot down six miles off the coast of South Carolina, defense officials said on Sunday.

The recovery effort, which is expected to take days, began not long after debris from the balloon hit the water, a defense official said. He added that a Navy ship arrived on the scene soon after the balloon was shot down, and that other Navy and Coast Guard ships, which had been put on alert, were also sent to the scene.

The shooting down of the balloon capped a remarkable week of high-stakes international drama, played out over the skies of the continental United States. While China has insisted that the balloon was not for surveillance, but rather a weather balloon that drifted off course, the Biden administration has stood firm that the balloon’s purpose was a somewhat hapless effort by China to spy on American military installations.

On Saturday, President Biden said that he had told Pentagon officials to shoot down the balloon, and that they “said to me, let’s wait until the safest place to do it.”

Pentagon officials said they took steps — without offering specifics — to make sure that the balloon did not yield much fruit as it hovered near Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana and other installations. They also said China could glean the same amount of intelligence from a spy satellite.

Nonetheless, the incident turned into a full fledged diplomatic quarrel between the world’s two great powers, with Biden administration officials calling their Chinese counterparts and Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken canceling what was to be the first trip to China by a Biden cabinet secretary.

Pentagon officials have made clear that they plan to collect every piece of debris that Navy divers can retrieve, for America’s own intelligence purposes. Because the balloon was shot down in relatively shallow water, they believe that the recovery effort will not be difficult.

Still, Navy divers will have to contend with cold water temperatures during the recovery effort. The defense official said that once all the debris is collected, the Pentagon will hand it over to be studied by various federal intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

Democratic and Republican lawmakers questioned how the balloon was allowed to pass over the United States, with Republicans blaming Mr. Biden for not acting sooner.

“We should have shot this balloon down over the Aleutians instead of letting it float across middle America on its merry way,” Senator Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican who sits on the Intelligence Committee, said on “Fox News Sunday.” “The idea that we were going to let this go all across America, a spy balloon complete its spy mission, before we shot it down, I’m afraid is an embarrassment to the United States, not an embarrassment to the Chinese.”

Senator Cory Booker, Democrat of New Jersey, praised the military operation to down the balloon. He described it as “a decision that was focused on protecting human life,” but he cautioned that the incident should not have happened at all.

“We should not have had this kind of incursion into the United States,” Mr. Booker said on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” adding that “we obviously have issues here.”

Republicans also criticized Mr. Biden for not alerting the public about the balloon sooner. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, the top Republican on the Intelligence Committee, called it a “dereliction of duty.”

“Why didn’t the president go on television?” Mr. Rubio said on CNN’s “State of the Union. “He has the ability to convene the country and cameras and basically explain what we’re dealing with here and why he’s made the decisions he’s making and what they intend to do.”

“I think,” Mr. Cotton said, “there’s a lot of answers for the administration to provide the American people.”

Chris Cameron and Jonathan Swan contributed reporting.

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