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Transcript: Sen. Jon Tester on "Face the Nation," Feb. 12, 2023

Tester: Anomaly over Montana may be an object
Tester says radar anomaly over Montana may be another object 08:03

The following is a transcript of an interview with Democratic Sen. Jon Tester of Montana that aired Sunday, Feb. 12, 2023, on "Face the Nation."

MARGARET BRENNAN: Good morning, and welcome to Face The Nation. As we come on the air, the big question in our minds today is what is going on here with what seemed like a deluge of potential incursions? What are these objects? Where are they coming from? What is their purpose? And are we experiencing an increase of the so-called unidentified aerial objects? Or are we just looking for them more carefully following the Chinese spy balloon event? We will do our best to try and get some of those questions answered today. We are going to begin with Montana Senator Jon Tester. Good morning to you, Senator. 

SEN. JON TESTER: Good morning. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: So, late Saturday, NORAD and NORTHCOM said there was a radar anomaly over your state, which is why airspace was closed. Was it a false alarm? Or is there an object over Montana?

SEN. TESTER: Well, I think the investigation is still going on as we speak. The truth is is that there was an anomaly, and they've investigated. I think it got dark last night, so they couldn't fully check it out. I'm sure as we speak, it's being checked out right now.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So it hasn't been ruled out. There may still be something up there.

SEN. TESTER: Absolutely. There may still be something out there. It may be a false alarm.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Is the policy now to shoot down any unidentified object?

SEN. TESTER: Well, I think that's a very, very good question, and that's a better question for General Milley. But the truth of the matter is, is that they need to have a policy, they being the military, needs to have a policy to recommend to the president. It's something that as- as Chairman of the Defense Committee and Ranking Member Collins, we've already talked about this. We're going to make sure that there is a plan. We're going to make sure if that plan needs to be funded that it gets funded. This is- what's gone on in the last, you know, two weeks or so, 10 days, has been nothing short of craziness. And the military needs to have a plan to not only determine what's out there, but determine the dangers that go with it.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So you don't know what will happen to this object over Montana. 

SEN. TESTER: My guess is it'll get shot down. But the military will make an assessment as to potential collateral damage just like they did on the Chinese balloon.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So you have spent time, as I understand it, with General Milley--

SEN. TESTER: I have.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and other DoD officials. Could he share with you anything about this mysterious object that was cylindrical and floating over Canada? Or the car sized one over Alaska?

SEN. TESTER: Well, I think you've got what he shared with me at that moment in time, and that they had done an assessment of it and determined that it was unmanned and determined that it should be shot down because they weren't absolutely positive that it was of no threat.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So the object over Alaska was near Prudhoe Bay, which is one of the most important energy fields in this country. 


MARGARET BRENNAN: Does that sound to you like it's espionage, state driven espionage?

SEN. TESTER: Well, look, I don't think things happen by mistake when it comes to China.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You think this was China?

SEN. TESTER: I don't know. I don't know that it's China. We will find out later on, if in fact, it was affiliated with the Chinese Communist government or not. But- but the bottom line is, is that I think we need to take these things seriously. I think the President and I think more importantly, the military are taking the- very, very seriously. And- and to back that up, I think through the appropriations process and the Defense Committee, we're going to make sure that they're taking it seriously. So the checks and balances will be there as we move forward. But this is, like I said, this has been a phenomenon that we haven't had recently, where we've had other countries that have went into our airspace for the purpose of trying to gather information on what we're doing here in the United States.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You said, and you underscored your key role in helping to determine the budget there for the Pentagon--


MARGARET BRENNAN: --that you don't remember hearing anything that dealt with balloons. How long has the military actually been tracking this?

SEN. TESTER: Well, I mean, that's a better question for the military. From my perspective--

MARGARET BRENNAN: but they weren't sharing this with Congress--

SEN. TESTER: They weren't sharing it with me. And so I can't say what their awareness was over the last 10 years. But- but obviously, there was some awareness, but whether it was up to where it needed to be that's- that's a debate that Congress needs to have and questions that need to be answered by our- our military leadership.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You were very critical, you made that very clear and were plain spoken about the fact that administration didn't shoot down the confirmed Chinese spy balloon over the state of Montana. And you wanted it shot down as soon as it was in U.S. airspace. Has your view changed at all after you've been briefed?

SEN. TESTER: Yeah, well, so initially, I was very much for shooting it down when it was over the Aleutians. I think what transpired was is that the military took assessments as to potential collateral damage and the threat of this balloon, and you know, we pay these folks good money to make sure we keep our nation safe, and I respect their view and the president followed that. Going on in the future, I think there needs to be a plan that's right up front. So we know exactly what's going to happen when these balloons come in and their threat is assessed, what's going to happen. But- but look, we- I got briefed, both in open session and a classified session and quite honestly, the military and intelligence community's explanation of what transpired with that balloon, I accept. Is it something that I would have done right out right out of the chute? No. I would have probably done a different, but that's not saying that I'm right or I'm wrong or they're right or they're wrong. In the end, we ended up with a balloon that they've recovered, and they're going to take and put it back together and reverse engineer it and we'll find out what they're up to, plus the information that was gathered while it came across the United States.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So I hear you say there's value in the that intelligence.


MARGARET BRENNAN: But in terms of of damage, according to what was declassified the Chinese balloon could intercept signals intelligence, it could pick up chatter, it hovered over some pretty key states, locations in your state, including one that houses excuse me, 150 intercontinental ballistic missiles.

SEN. TESTER: No doubt about that. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Was there damage done?

SEN. TESTER: No doubt about that, and there better not have been damage done, or it makes my case for shooting the doggone thing down over the Aleutian Islands. Look, we've got ICBMs in Montana, we got 150 of them, Malmstrom Air Force Base is an incredible deterrent for this country and has been since the early 60s. They- the military made an assessment that they wouldn't be able to gather the information that-that the military thought was important to China. And if that didn't happen that way, somebody screwed up.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You on the issue of China. According to the federal government, 3% of the nation's farmland is owned by foreign investors. You have recently introduced a bill to try to restrict foreign ownership of farmland. I know this is an issue in a number of farming states. Why do you think that needs to be a federal ban on foreign ownership?

SEN. TESTER: Well, look, I'm a farmer. I've been farming my grandparents' land at the homestead, and I think it's really important for food security. The folks- this is a ban against China, Russia, North Korea and Iran, folks who don't want to see us exist anymore as a nation. I don't think they should have any opportunity to try to dictate our food supply or–

MARGARET BRENNAN: Any Chinese owned company, right?

SEN. TESTER: Right, period done. Because they're all connected with the Communist Chinese government anyway. And so I think it's a reasonable step to take. Senator Rounds out of South Dakota does too. So it's bipartisan. And I think we should do it as a matter of course, and I'm all about private property rights. I think people ought to be able to sell who they want to sell to, but not in this particular case because China wants to do bad things to us. Same thing with North Korea, Russia and Iran. So let's- let's take that off the table, both in farmland and in agri-businesses I think, I think it'd be a mistake, a really a mistake for national security and for food security.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Senator Tester, thank you for your time.

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