House Intelligence Chairman Mike Turner (R-OH) said in an interview Sunday that the U.S. has holes in its homeland defense infrastructure that have been exposed by the recent incursions of foreign objects into U.S. airspace.
Turner told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union” that he believes President Joe Biden has turned “trigger-happy” after receiving intense criticism for allowing a suspected Chinese spy balloon to cross the entire country before shooting it down.
“I would prefer them to be trigger-happy than to be permissive. But we’re going to have to see whether or not this is just the administration trying to change headlines,” he said. “But what I think this shows, which is probably more important to our policy discussion here, is that we really have to declare that we’re going to defend our airspace.”
“And then we need to invest. What’s become clear in the public discussion is that we don’t really have adequate radar systems,” he continued. “We certainly don’t have an integrated missile defense system. We’re going to have to begin to look at the United States’ airspace as one that we need to defend and that we need to have appropriate sensors to do so.”
Turner said that these recent incidents have exposed “problems and gaps that we have” that need to be fixed “as soon as possible, because we certainly now ascertain there is a threat.”
"I would prefer [the Biden administration] to be trigger happy than to be permissive."
— CNN (@CNN) February 12, 2023
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Chairman Turner, thanks so much for joining us.
What can you tell us? What were the second and third objects that the military shot down, and where did they come from?
REP. MIKE TURNER (R-OH): Yes, well, I certainly don’t know, as the administration is saying they don’t know.
They do appear somewhat trigger-happy, although this is certainly preferable to the permissive environment that they showed when the Chinese spy balloon was coming over some of our most sensitive sites.
I think one thing that this shows is certainly the fallacy of the argument of the Biden administration saying that the height of the Chinese balloon caused them to have no concern, because certainly, as we know, whatever goes up can come down.
And just saying that this Chinese spy balloon was high and these are lower, and, therefore, they actually pose a hazard really isn’t a…
TAPPER: Are you…
TURNER: … anybody is comfortable with.
TAPPER: Are you glad that they were — that they shot down these two objects? Because, obviously, you and other Republicans were critical for the Biden — that the Biden team took as long as they did to shoot down the object that was clearly a Chinese spy balloon?
TURNER: Sure. As I was saying, I would prefer them to be trigger- happy than to be permissive. But we’re going to have to see whether or not this is just the administration trying to change headlines. But what I think this shows, which is probably more important to our policy discussion here, is that we really have to declare that we’re going to defend our airspace.
And then we need to invest. What’s become clear in the public discussion is that we don’t really have adequate radar systems. We certainly don’t have an integrated missile defense system. We’re going to have to begin to look at the United States’ airspace as one that we need to defend and that we need to have appropriate sensors to do so.
This shows some of the problems and gaps that we have. We need to fill those as soon as possible, because we certainly now ascertain there is a threat.
TAPPER: Do you think the second and third objects shot down Friday and Saturday were spying on America and Canada? Is it possible they were just weather balloons or something else that was — that’s benign?
TURNER: Yes, it was interesting.
When the Department of Defense gave in its first statement on this, if you notice, there was a word slipped in there that you certainly didn’t hear when the Chinese spy balloon was over the United States. And that’s the word corporate of origin.
So, even the Department of Defense is saying a very broad net as to what these things might be. But it shows a renewed interest and a renewed dedication to defending United States airspace. Certainly, the United States, this administration now needs to declare that it will defend its airspace, which, of course, is going to be difficult for an administration that has difficulty controlling the ground sovereignty to declare air sovereignty.
But we need to do so.
TAPPER: When do you expect to get briefed again, as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee?
TURNER: You know, this is particularly annoying about this administration.
The Biden administration needs to stop briefing Congress through our television sets and actually come and sit down and brief us. What we’re seeing here is a number of announcements by the administration without any real information being given to Congress.
This could be because they don’t have any information. From the press conference we saw, it does seem like they took this action without a real understanding for what they were going after, but having declared it a hazard. But we will see as the information comes to Congress. But I do think that there needs to be more engagement between the administration and Congress. Probably, they’re a little hesitant after the Chinese balloon fiasco, where they let it go across the country, to great criticism, bipartisan and bicameral criticism, from Congress.
TAPPER: Have objects like these always been moving in and out of U.S. airspace, and we’re just now learning about them with new technology, and shooting them down, or do you think this is a new, recent development?
TURNER: I think it’s certainly a new, recent development that you have China being so aggressive in entering other countries’ airspace, and doing so for clear intentions to spy with very sophisticated equipment.
I mean, the very scale of this balloon and of the technology that was deployed by China in spying on the United States is unprecedented. No other nation has anything like it and no other nation has attempted it. But, certainly, there are things at times that come and go from our airspace that we track, that we try to determine if it’s going to be a threat that don’t rise to the level of the very large, sophisticated Chinese spy balloon.
TAPPER: A source briefed on the intelligence said that some of the pilots said the object interfered with their sensors on the plane.
I think this is the second object shot down over Alaska on Friday, interfered with their sensors. Not all of the pilots reported that, but some did. Some pilots also claimed to have seen no identifiable propulsion on the object and could not explain how it was even staying in the air.
What do you make of those reports?
TURNER: Well, at this point, they are just reports, so we will have to wait until we get the final information.
But because this thing was shot down, we have an ability to do the forensics, to do the exploitation of it when it’s found. And that will answer a lot of our questions. And, also, getting the data from the various planes, their sensors, what they actually were seeing or not seeing, in addition to what the pilots saw, will be really important.
But there’s going to be a number of questions to answer here. The big point is that this is time for the United States to take this as a turning point to invest. We need more sophisticated radar systems. We have them. We just don’t have them deployed to protect high over the United States.
An integrated missile defense system — we have helped invest in Israel having an integrated missile defense system. We don’t have one ourselves. This is a turning point where we need to discuss, this is a threat, and how do we respond to it?
TAPPER: Let’s turn to talk about the latest in the classified documents investigation. We just learned that, last month, former President Trump’s team
apparently turned over more classified records from Mar-a-Lago, including a laptop and thumb drive with classified pages that had been uploaded by an aide from Trump’s political action committee.
You’re the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Is this acceptable to you? And are you worried that an outside aide from Trump’s political action committee had possession of these documents?
TURNER: Yes, I just don’t get this, Jake. I don’t get it with Biden, Pence or Trump. All of them keep finding documents that are classified, stuffed places.
I just — I have no understanding of it. I can tell you that members of Congress who, like me, deal with highly classified information in the Intelligence Committee, the Armed Services Committee, the Foreign Affairs Committee, we’re all just stumped. We don’t understand how this could be happening. We don’t understand how all three could have been so lackadaisical about this.
These are incredibly important documents. They are not to be taken lightly. And we’re just amazed as people keep finding them stuffed in the strangest places like behind Biden’s Corvette. This is — this is clearly a failure of an understanding of how to handle the importance of these documents.
There’s legislation now that have been dropped in Congress that will make it even more difficult and give different penalties to be able to enforce mishandling classified documents. It’s all coming from just — people are just shocked.
TAPPER: I want to ask you before you go. Russia just launched yet another major amount of missiles into Ukraine on Friday, its first major assault in weeks, as President Zelenskyy is still pleading with the U.S. for more help.
And yet, at the same time, almost a day as one of your fellow House Republicans issued — introduced a resolution to halt any more military or financial help for Ukraine.
What do you say to those individuals in the House Republican Conference? And are you worried at all that this marks the beginning of the end of U.S. support for Ukraine?
TURNER: Yes, as you know, both on the left — the left, the Democrat sent a letter, 20 people, saying that we should immediately negotiate a settlement and then withdrew it.
Putin still hears it, even though it’s withdrawn. And then you have the far right saying the same thing. But, luckily, they — they do not add up to the majority of Congress. The majority of Congress understands that this is crucial. We are fighting on the front lines of democracy. The fact that Zelenskyy has been — as president, they — will rally his country to fight against Russia, and we have been able to arm them, it is really unprecedented that a nation like that could stand to a superpower like Russia. But they’re doing so with the commitment to keep the sovereignty of their nation.
And Russia’s atrocities are just appalling. Anyone who sees what Russia is doing in killing innocent civilians, destroying the infrastructure there has to be moved to want to support the Ukrainians. I’m very disappointed in those who don’t see the importance of this.
TAPPER: All right, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Mike Turner of Ohio, thanks for joining us this morning, sir.
TURNER: Thank you.