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China’s Spy Balloon Proves the U.S. Homeland Is Vulnerable

F-22 A Raptor Demonstration Team aircraft maintainers prepare to launch out Maj. Paul "Max" Moga, the first F-22A Raptor demonstration team pilot, July 13. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Christopher L. Ingersoll)

Before 9/11, most Americans believed they were safe from foreign attack. The smoking holes in the heart of New York City and the side of the Pentagon set them straight. 

Perhaps the most consequential aftermath of those horrific tragedies was a national consensus to take homeland security seriously. Congress established the Department of Homeland Security, not just as a federal agency for our protection, but as the hub of a national enterprise to ensure a unified response to foreign threats and disasters.

The Department of Defense established NORTHCOM, a domestic military command dedicated to protecting the homeland and providing military assistance to civilian authorities for disasters and domestic response. These were unprecedented institutions, with the mission of safeguarding the safety, prosperity, and freedoms of Americans as rigorously in peacetime as in times of war. 

Up In a Balloon

Biden’s balloon follies demonstrate how far in two decades our government has drifted from the noble vision of limited government providing the fundamental service we expect from the government: providing for the common defense.

The intent of homeland security was to better serve Americans. Instead, Joe Biden has exploited that centralization of authority, like every other instrument of government from the IRS to the CDC, to put politics ahead of the American people.

Once word about Xi’s hot-air overflight got out, the Administration’s initial reaction was to obsess over the politics of the problem. Rather than address the problem directly and forthrightly, they deflected and obfuscated to try to obscure the fact that they had failed to respond appropriately. We’ve seen this before when they abandoned Afghanistan. Balloon-gate was no different. 

There are no two ways to parse this. A Chinese spy balloon traversing the entirety of the United States is blatantly illegal, a clear violation of American airspace, and a deliberate encroachment on American sovereignty. It is a perfect example of the kind of threat that post-9/11 homeland security measures were meant to prevent.

Biden floated a variety of explanations and excuses as to why the balloon was allowed to survey critical defense facilities from coast to coast—from “Blame Trump” to “Everything is under control,” to “I am really the hero here.” But the real reason for the Administration’s belated, muddled, and confused response is that Biden is trapped between his desire to want to normalize relations with China, and the American people who want him to get tough on China and protect us.  

Biden has a long track record of failing to be honest about the China threat. The balloon fiasco is just the latest example of the White House putting its politics over our security.

The Border Threat

And it is not just the China threat where Biden is playing fast and loose with our safety. Border security has become such a massive disaster that now Congress is considering impeaching the Secretary of Homeland Security. The administration’s malfeasance on the border is so egregious, writes former U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Mark Morgan, they have tried to lower the number of illegal border crossings by mass “pardoning” ineligible immigrants and waving them through ports of entry. This shell game serves Biden politically but does nothing to secure the border. 

From sending the FBI to investigate school boards to using the Department of Homeland Security to open the gates to millions of unvetted immigrants, Biden has inverted the nation’s homeland security architecture to serve his purposes rather than our security.

Biden may think this is all just good politics, and he may be right—until the next 9/11. The reason Americans took homeland security seriously after the Sept. 11 attacks is because they recognized there were foreign enemies intent on killing us in our own communities—and we were acting like fat and happy sitting ducks. The sorry state of our border security and the balloon overflight are global advertising to America’s enemies that America is open for monkey business.  

This unserious approach to homeland security must stop right now. Biden is no doubt hoping that the worst that can happen won’t happen under his watch.

But hope is not a strategy. Nor is it good enough for America. The world has only gotten more dangerous since 2001. It’s time for Biden to wise up and put national security before political calculations.

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A Heritage Foundation vice president, James Jay Carafano directs the think tank’s research on matters of national security and foreign affairs. He is a 19FortyFive Contributing Editor. 

Written By

Now a 1945 Contributing Editor, James Jay Carafano, a leading expert in national security and foreign policy challenges, is the vice president of Heritage's Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy and the E. W. Richardson Fellow.



  1. Commentar

    February 8, 2023 at 10:14 pm

    The north american landmass has always been vulnerable.

    The indians of north america came across by the bridge or landmass that once connected alaska to siberia.

    Then later, the europeans came via the ocean and decimated the indians through disease, relentless warfare and massive huge overwhelmimg numbers.

    Today, this landmass is just as vulnerable as ever, even though USA is now the undisputed mega franken-hyper power of the world.

    ICBMs from several nations are capable of reaching & blasting north america (USA & Canada) as well as high flying long duration-sailing balloons from east asia.

    USA has gone over into top gear in its reaction to the balloon incident or balloon episode, unable to fathom that it’s only a signal or message that it’s fully vulnerable or exposed to dangers arising from its various actions abroad.

    Bidrm has promised to ‘protect US sovereignty’ but what about the sovereignty of other nations, like libya and syria.

    Instead of crying crocodile tears and baying for ‘sovereignty’ USA could just act civil amd issue arrest warrant for undertaking unauthorised overflights.

    US sovereignty is at the mercy of the westerlies, or the winds that forever blow from west to east in the northern latitudes, and biden can’t fight nature. He can fight the calls for war and aggressive action and damp down the political hyperventilation.

    But biden is the latest antichrist or the devil and he won’t listen to reason. He wants war now in 2023.

  2. mcswell

    February 8, 2023 at 10:29 pm

    Carafano, I suppose you’re too young to remember the American U-2 flights over the Soviet Union in the 1950s, until one got shot down in 1960. It was only because Eisenhower let the Soviet Union launch Sputnik in 1957 before the US launched its only Earth satellite that the same issue didn’t arise with satellites.

    I agree that China should not be allowed to fly recon balloons over the US. But the fact that they have been doing that–apparently for several years–does not mean that Biden is a dunce. It simply means that like the Soviets developed ways to detect, track and bring down the U-2s flying over their country, we need to develop ways to detect the Chinese balloons. (It looks like tracking them once they’re detected is not an issue, and certainly shooting them down is not, although maybe there are safer ways to do so than exploding a warhead inside them. Putting a small hole in the balloon would bring it down more slowly, and possibly even in a controlled way.)

    Who knows, we might even offer a detection/ tracking/ shooting service to the many other countries that China flies these spy balloons over. That might even garner us some good will, and make the Chinese look even worse than they already do. Now that’s something you and I might even agree on.

  3. 404NotFound

    February 8, 2023 at 10:32 pm

    9/11 was a blowback to Clinton’s forever wars on the Iraqi people.

    It was made all the more unavoidedly possible by mistakes or deliberate shortcomings in the bush administration in 2001.

    Today, balloons fly over Montana. Tomorrow, ICBMs over Washington DC ???

    Balloons are the least of worries for Biden and co.

    Tomorrow, it could be fleets of spaceplanes flying super high up over the US skies.

    What will Biden, chief of ???? do. He will only bang his balls and flap his sardine and call for mama.

    Biden is uttering threats of mayhem and potential violence but he’s only making US more vulnerable.

    Biden is like a ship’s captain taking his vessel to the rocks and intending to wreck it.

  4. Len Mullen

    February 10, 2023 at 10:01 pm

    Terrorists walking across the southern border wasn’t enough proof for you?

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