Several Republican senators are urging the Department of Defense’s Inspector General to investigate their claims that a DOD official leaked classified information to shield President Joe Biden from criticism for his response to the Chinese high-altitude balloon that flew over the United States in early February.
The Biden administration ordered the suspected spy balloon shot down after it had flown east over the U.S. and crossed out over the open waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Several Republican politicians criticized the Biden administration for not shooting the balloon down earlier. Amid this Republican criticism, an unnamed defense official told news outlets that Chinese balloons had entered U.S. airspace at least three times during the Trump administration without garnering the same public attention.
In March, Sens. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) alleged Defense Undersecretary Colin Kahl was the defense official responsible for revealing Chinese balloons had previously entered U.S. air space. The two Republicans suggested this alleged leak was an attempt to shift blame away from the Biden administration’s response to the February balloon incident.
“It remains unclear whether this leak was cleared internally through the proper channels. Either way, it was a brazen attempt to shift blame,” Rubio and Wicker wrote in a March 8 letter (pdf) to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. “Most egregiously, Dr. Kahl omitted a key detail in his distribution of this sensitive information to the press—the prior Chinese balloons were only discovered much later. The Trump administration did not have an opportunity to respond at the time.”
On March 23, North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) Commander Gen. Glen VanHerck testified that he first learned of the Chinese balloon on Jan. 27 and first detected it by radar on Jan. 28 as it passed near St. Matthews Island, an uninhabited island located about 210 miles southwest of the Alaskan mainland.
10 Republican Senators Demand Investigation
On Tuesday, Sens. Wicker, Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) Ted Budd (R-N.C.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.), James Lankford (R-Okla.), Roger Marshall (R-Kan.), Eric Schmitt (R-Mo.), Rick Scott (R-Fla.), and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) called for the DOD Inspector General to formally investigate Kahl’s handling of classified documents.
“Under Secretary Kahl provided reporters with classified information regarding prior Chinese surveillance balloons. The selective leak falsely portrayed prior incursions as similar incidents and suggested that the previous administration was similarly ineffective in responding to known surveillance threats,” the 10 senators said in a letter (pdf) to DOD Inspector General Robert Storch on Tuesday.
“In fact, it was later revealed that the prior incursions were not discovered at the time, and leaders of the previous administration did not have an opportunity to respond to the threat. Nonetheless, Under Secretary Kahl’s leak appears intended to distract from the Biden administration’s own conduct by attacking political opponents,” the Republicans added.
The Republican senators alleged Kahl had been involved in previous leaks of classified information.
“Worse, Under Secretary Kahl’s leak, like his previous leaks, appears to have been made for partisan political purposes,” the senators added. “Given Under Secretary Kahl’s repeated and blatant mishandling of classified information for political purposes, we urge you to investigate this conduct.”
Intentionally leaking classified documents could run afoul of federal law and nondisclosure agreements officials sign when they obtain security clearances. Those who leak classified documents could lose their security clearances and face up to 10 years in prison.
Kahl was confirmed to his current DOD position without any support from the Republican Senators.