Clinton, Obama CIA chief Panetta fails to see ‘logic’ in allowing spy balloon to ‘transverse entire country’

There was a seemingly coordinated effort over the weekend to rescue President Joe Biden from the growing criticism of allowing a Chinese spy balloon to traverse the entire nation before finally taking action, with even the Pentagon getting in on the game by claiming it took “mitigation steps” to prevent Beijing from gathering additional intelligence.

The talking points being regurgitated claimed that the president was deliberate and calculating and that his actions allowed for a better opportunity to capture the technology in use by the Chinese — the spy balloon was downed just off the East Coast — but Leon Panetta did not appear to get the talking points because he appeared on CNN Newsroom on Sunday and said Biden should have “taken action earlier.”

(Video: CNN)

After noting that Panetta served as CIA director and then Secretary of Defense under President Barack Obama and was President Bill Clinton’s chief of staff, host Jim Acosta did his part to prop up Biden by asking whether it made “some sense from an intelligence-gathering standpoint to let it drift for a while and let it get out over the ocean where it can be brought down without really any potential for danger below.”

“There are going to be lessons from all of this with regards to this kind of spy balloon if it is, in fact, a spy balloon,” Panetta said. “If it was that, and if we were aware of the balloon, I think we should have taken steps to prevent it from entering our airspace, and I’m not sure that we should have allowed it to simply cross over the country, cross over what were obviously sensitive military sites. I don’t see the logic of that.”

“So, the question obviously is, the Pentagon said that there were risks here. I understand that argument, that there were debris risks. At the same time, I think we should have acted earlier if our suspicions were valid that this was, in fact, on an intelligence mission,” he continued. “I hope in the future we make clear to China that this kind of incident cannot happen again and it will not happen again, and in the future, if we see that kind of balloon, we are going to — if they don’t take action to prevent that balloon from entering our airspace, that we will indeed shoot it down much earlier than we did this time around.”

Seeking to clarify his guest’s stance, Acosta followed up, “And I think if I have you straight, you’re saying that you think this should have been shot down perhaps over Montana, something like that, maybe over a sparsely populated area, that sort of thing, before it crossed over the entire — almost the entire continental U.S.?”

“Yes, that bothered me, that it was allowed to transverse the entire country. For that reason, I think it probably would have been well for the president to have been transparent with the country about what was happening here,” Panetta replied. “When they initially found that the balloon was there, when they considered it to be an intelligence-gathering balloon, and frankly, when the president made the decision to shoot it down, if he made the decision on Wednesday to shoot it down, I think that should have been made public. It would have prevented some of the criticism that occurred later. The American people, I think, are entitled to know just exactly what our adversaries are up to. So, I think greater transparency would have helped the White House as well.”

Tom Tillison


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