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Alaska U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan: Chinese spy balloon signals new era.

The suspected Chinese spy balloon drifts to the ocean after being shot down off the coast in Surfside Beach, S.C., on Saturday.
Randall Hill
The suspected Chinese spy balloon drifts to the ocean after being shot down off the coast in Surfside Beach, S.C., on Saturday.

In his annual address to the Alaska State Legislature, U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan told lawmakers the Chinese surveillance balloon, which traveled for seven days across the United States, is a sign of the times.

“We must wake up to the fact that this new era of authoritarian aggression will likely be with us for decades,” said the Republican senator. “We need to face it with strategic resolve and confidence.”

The giant, moon-shaped balloon was first detected on Saturday, Jan. 28, north of the Aleutian Islands.

From there, it moved across Alaska towards Canada and down to Idaho, Montana and then across the United States to the coast of South Carolina, where it was shot down on Saturday in the Atlantic Ocean.

Sullivan, who has been critical of the Biden Administration’s handling of the surveillance balloon, says threats like this are not new to Alaska, which has been on the front lines of national security, going back to World War II -- and most recently, during the Cold War.

Sullivan told lawmakers there was once a campaign called “Operation Washtub,” which recruited Alaskans to act as sleeper agents in case there was a Russian invasion.

“They wanted fishermen and Bush pilots and prospectors and bartenders and hunters and trappers to be undercover CIA agents,” he said.

Sullivan said Alaska still has a role to play, as the country deals with authoritarian aggression from China and Russia.

He said development of Alaska’s energy resources, such as the Willow oil drilling project, is key to national security.

Sullivan spent most of his speech calling on lawmakers to pass a resolution in support of Willow, a ConocoPhillips project near the North Slope community of Nuiqsut, which is opposed to drilling there.

Sullivan said that he and Rep.Mary Peltola have requested a meeting with President Biden to make the case for Willow. Peltola, a Democrat, has joined Sullivan and Republican Sen.Lisa Murkowski in support of the project.

Rhonda McBride has a long history of working in both television and radio in Alaska, going back to 1988, when she was news director at KYUK, the public radio and TV stations in Bethel, which broadcast in both the English and Yup’ik languages.