Clay and Buck

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Former Acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller on the Chinese Spy Balloon

6 Feb 2023

CLAY: We appreciate being joined right now by Chris Miller, served as acting Secretary of Defense under Trump, former Special Forces commander, Green Beret, first of his generation to serve as a cabinet official responsible for America and the security there. And he was also director of the National Counterterrorism Center. So, when you see this story about the balloon that so captivated everybody on Friday, and you are told, “Oh, this also happened under the Trump administration,” what’s your reaction?

MILLER: Hey, thanks for having me on, you guys. I’m really honored. “Unsinkable aircraft carrier of free speech.” At least it’s not a Chinese spy balloon.

BUCK: There we go!

CLAY: Amen.

MILLER: Thank goodness. No kidding, you guys. You guys got this right? Oh, man. Yeah. I’m hearing all this back and forth. I’m getting… My phone’s blowing up, like, “Hey, did you know about these doggone spy balloons?” I can tell you definitively, when I was acting Secretary of Defense — I spent three years in the White House in various capacities at the Pentagon — I never heard hide nor hair of it. Pretty sure I would have known if that happened. And the president wasn’t informed. That’s really, really bad. So I’m trying to get the story straight. I can’t get the story straight. Somebody needs to do it. That’s what you guys are going to do, right?

BUCK: We’re trying. But, as part of this, though, I’m wondering if you could help — to the degree you’re allowed — illuminate this audience all across the country with what the possible motivations as you see them from the Chinese side would be of flying this kind of a balloon. I mean, we hear surveillance. Okay. Well, what kind of surveillance and why would the Chinese risk this kind of diplomatic rift unless there were something substantial in it for them? These are the questions that we’re getting asked ever since the story broke.

MILLER: Yeah, well, I mean, there you go. You guys kind of hit it up earlier. Is this…? Have we shown weakness? Have we showed our belly to the Chinese? Because the Chinese Communist Party and military flies, you know, fleets of aircraft over Taiwan every couple of days and we don’t do anything. And then, you know, with the debacle in Afghanistan, are the Chinese are questioning our motivations. But here’s what I what I wanted to say based on your question. You got me frequency hop in there, because there’s so much going on in my brain about this right now. But, you know, when you talk about why would they do this, probably my bet if they ever recover this, it was probably for electronic… They were trying to collect information on our radar systems and all our electronic warfare stuff and probably some sort of sensors like that. So then they know what frequencies were on and all that sort of stuff. And then that can help them plan if they ever want to attack.

CLAY: All right. So, again, you say you never heard anything about these Chinese spy balloons being in, you know, American airspace before. It doesn’t seem like there was a precedent established. But my first thought when Buck and I were talking about it on Friday is when I hear Chinese spycraft entering into American airspace, my first thought is we should immediately shoot it down.


CLAY: You know, potentially in Alaska, where by and large, there are lots of areas that have no population to speak of. What do you think would happen now if they tried to enter a United States airspace again? What should happen? And do we think that NORAD would know almost immediately if this occurred again? How would you assess that?

MILLER: You guys! What great questions. Yep. I’m doing the same thing you did. I’m like, I can sort of read a map. Still, it’s been a few years since I actually was in Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and you have to carry one, but you’re like, “Oh, it flies over the Aleutians?” There’s a lot of space in there to do something where they could have brought it down. I’ll give you… If I could frequency hop on you, here’s my issue.

You know, we spent $850 billion on this most exquisite military in the history of the world, and we don’t have the capability to bring down — you know, safe like under our control — this doggone spy balloon that’s just kind of drifting along. I think that’s a bigger issue right there. But gosh darn, I think our air defense radars have to be pretty fine tune now, looking for something to come in. Gosh darn, we can’t… We can’t let this one happen again. I mean, we just look… It’s good content for Saturday Night Live. You guys know that. The memes are great. But it’s kind of an embarrassment as an American, isn’t it?

BUCK: We’re speaking to Chris Miller, who was a former Special Forces commander and served as acting Secretary of Defense under President Donald Trump, and Chris, on the… Just for clarity sake here. So when that when those news reports came out that said there were three balloon incursions under the Trump presidency, was…? I mean, you said you didn’t know about them. Do you think that was just a lie? Are they just lying to try to cover for Biden’s behind here? What’s going on?

MILLER: I can’t keep up. It seems like the story changes about every 5 minutes. “Well, actually, we didn’t know until after the fact.” It’s this crazy, Kafkaesque sort of description that I can’t figure out. It looks like now the admin — the Biden administration — has recognized that, well, there could have been some spy balloons come over, but we didn’t know — “we,” the Trump administration — didn’t know till after the fact. I didn’t have any of that information. And I got to tell you, I’m pretty confident that if President Trump was faced with that, he would have taken direct action right away.

CLAY: We’re talking to Chris Miller, acting Secretary of Defense under President Trump. So going forward, you say maybe they’re trying to gain some information on existing American assets. That was the reason that they would send this balloon across. Also seems likely they would have known that it was going to be discovered, given the fact — the amount of time that they spent in America, the fact — that it was actually just visible to the naked eye from the ground in many different states. Did you have any fear yourself that this might be boobytrapped, equipped with some sort of dangerous device inside? Could it have been a test to allow that to happen in the future? How would you assess, in other words, the idea that this is not just spycraft, but it could be in years ahead, something that is used to actually deliver dangerous consequences of a militaristic past and possibility going forward?

MILLER: You guys remember right after the start of World War II, those fire balloons the Japanese imperialists dropped on the forests of the American Northwest? (crosstalk)

CLAY: We talked about that. Buck looked it up. Yep.

MILLER: Yeah. You guys, I knew you had. I knew you had, you guys. You’re all over this. I think that’s really in warfare. You’re always probing the defenses of your adversaries, either current or potential adversaries, to find out what they can get away with. I think your speculation has to be taken seriously and has to be considered strongly on that. I also think it’s never… You wonder. My buddies were all texting me like, “Hey, man, this is a deception or this is like a shiny object? Like, ‘Look over here while we’re doing this or really doing something somewhere else.’” I think we have to think about that one too. I don’t have any proof or no one’s called me on that, but we got to think about that too.

CLAY: There was obviously a lot of attention, one of the generals said that he expected China to invade Taiwan. I think 2025 was his prediction.


CLAY: Do you think China will invade Taiwan? And if China did invade Taiwan, how do you think the U.S. military would respond?

MILLER: Well, I know the United States military can absolutely rip into them and tear their you-know-what holes out without too much effort. The question is whether we have the political will and our… You know, I talk about in my book whether our military leadership has the war fighting spirit to do that. I don’t know that right now. I know our troops can handle it. No problem. I get confused because I can’t tell what our policy is against Taiwan right now. I told you earlier, they send all these planes and drones and everything at Taiwan and we don’t do anything. So I think if you’re sitting in Chairman Xi’s position, you’re like, “Man, I wonder if I can… I wonder if I can get this done before the United States amasses their forces.” So it’s I don’t know if it’s 2025, but I know they must be thinking really strongly in Beijing about what to do next.

BUCK: Chris Miller, former acting Secretary of Defense. Appreciate your being with us, sir. Thanks for calling in.

MILLER: Thanks. “Unsinkable aircraft carrier of free speech,” you guys. Thanks for doing what you’re doing.

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