Keila Szpaller

(Daily Montanan) U.S. Sen. Steve Daines introduced a bill this week to identify any institution helping China spy on Americans or working with its military or intelligence as a restricted trade partner.

The Montana Republican also criticized the Biden administration for its response to the “Chinese spy balloon fiasco” he said is among incidents that have “embarrassed” the United States on the world stage.

This week, the Wall Street Journal reported the debris collected from the Chinese spy balloon the U.S. military shot down in February contained American technology, citing analyses by the FBI and intelligence agencies.

The news has escalated calls for action by the Biden administration from Montana’s senators.

“We watched this administration stand back and watch this balloon fly across the entire United States as if it was part of some kind of Taylor Swift state-to-state concert tour,” Daines said in prepared remarks of the balloon’s seven-day sail across the U.S.

In February, Department of Defense officials confirmed a balloon from China was flying over the country after a couple of photojournalists in Montana captured an image of a “suspicious” object in the sky over Billings.

The Biden administration had said it would shoot the balloon down only as soon as doing so wouldn’t present a danger to the public, and the U.S. military did so over the South Carolina coast.

This week, the office of U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, a Montana Democrat, announced he is proposing an amendment to the defense bill to investigate the technology used in foreign espionage programs.

Daines, who worked in China in the 1990s, proposed the bill to help shut down entities that support China’s military airship and balloon programs. His office said the legislation is written to enforce sanctions on both people and businesses, and the senator will also introduce it as an amendment to the defense bill.

He said China is likely “skirting and evading” both the law and spirit of U.S. military export restrictions, given new reports about its spying on this country.

Daines’ bill was introduced this week and referred to the Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs.

After U.S. officials confirmed they were tracking the Chinese spy balloon, an expert on China with the Mansfield Center at the University of Montana said the U.S. and China are likely each other’s No. 1 espionage targets.

In February, Daines said it wasn’t the first time a Chinese balloon entered American airspace over sensitive national security areas.

This week in a letter to the secretaries of Defense, Commerce and Treasury, Daines called on the departments to review technology used in the balloon and identify any breaches of military restrictions.

He also called for a report on “any and all sanctions and trade regulations that were violated, as well as shortcomings of the current sanctions and regulations that the administration, in conjunction with Congress, can address to prevent future Chinese violation of U.S. national security interests.”

Department of Defense briefings and releases this week did not include information on the Chinese spy balloon.

In his letter, Daines also said the U.S. needs to “immediately identify” how China obtained and “illegally deployed” the technology and ensure it doesn’t do so again.

“Given reports that China has been spying on the United States from a base in Cuba since 2019, all of this indicates a pattern of continued malign intentions on the part of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party),” Daines wrote. “This is nothing short of outrageous.”