A U.S. Senate appropriations subcommittee oversight hearing on Thursday focused on China's high-altitude surveillance efforts. Democratic Sen. Jon Tester questioned witnesses and said, "I don't want a damn balloon going across the United States." Photo by Jemal Countess/UPI | License Photo
Feb. 9 (UPI) -- Congressional lawmakers blasted both China and the Biden administration over China's surveillance balloon on Thursday.
Also on Thursday, the State Department revealed that the balloon carried an antenna array for collecting communications and solar panels to power its sensors.
In Congress on Thursday, the U.S. House unanimously passed a resolution 419-0 condemning China for sending a spy balloon into U.S. airspace.
The resolution condemns "the Chinese Communist Party's use of a high-altitude surveillance balloon over United States territory as a brazen violation of United States sovereignty."
Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate held an Appropriations subcommittee oversight hearing on Chinese high-altitude surveillance efforts Thursday in which Senators from both the Republican and Democratic parties expressed anger at the administration of President Joe Biden in its handling of the balloon, NBC News reported.
"Do we have a plan for the next time that happens and how we're going to deal with it?" Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., asked senior officials with the Defense Department.
"Because, quite frankly, I'll just tell you, I don't want a damn balloon going across the United States," Tester said.
Tester, the subcommittee's chair, also pressed Pentagon officials on why previous Chinese balloons that flew over the United States were not shot down.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said during the hearing that she was "angry" that the balloon was first detected over her home state on Jan. 28 but that the balloon was not shot down until days later, according to CNBC.
"Alaska is the first line of defense for America," Murkowski shouted. "It's like this administration doesn't think that Alaska is any part of the rest of the country!"
Melissa Dalton, the Assistant Secretary of Defense, told lawmakers that a "key part" of the decision-making process in not immediately shooting down the balloon was being able to salvage the hardware from the balloon afterward.
"If we had taken it down over the state of Alaska," Dalton said, "it would have been a very different recovery operation."
During a State Department briefing Thursday afternoon, spokesperson Ned Price said, "China acted irresponsibly by violating our sovereignty ... we acted responsibly and prudently to protect our interests. China, as a result, has a lot to answer for."
Price said the balloon was not shot down earlier because tracking it and assessing it had intelligence value for the United States.
"When it entered North American airspace we were tracking it very closely. NORAD did not assess it to be a military threat," Price said.
Price said actions were taken during the balloon's flight to minimize its ability to gather intelligence information.
"There was a benefit of watching this system as we minimized its ability to gather intelligence against the United States," he said. "There was value to us to continue tracking and assessing the balloon."
Earlier Thursday the State Department said in a statement that China's balloon is part of a sophisticated surveillance program in more than 40 nations and 5 continents. According to the State Department, U.S. U-2 spy plane information indicated the balloon was capable of signals intelligence operations far beyond the typical capabilities of weather balloons.
According to the State Department, the balloon had multiple antennas capable of communications collection and geo-locating, and the balloon maker has ties to China's military.
"The United States will also explore taking action against PRC entities linked to the PLA that supported the balloon's incursion into U.S. airspace," the official said, referring to the People's Republic of China. "We will also look at broader efforts to expose and address the PRC's larger surveillance activities that pose a threat to our national security, and to our allies and partners."
The State Department official said the United States sent "a clear message" to China that its violation of U.S. sovereignty was unacceptable by shooting down the balloon.
The U.S. Navy and FBI released more images of the recovery of the spy balloon on Thursday, displaying some of the efforts that took place in retrieving and examining it.