(CNSNews.com) - The "unprecedented" flight of a Chinese spy balloon across the entire continental United States, high above strategic U.S. military installations, may have some intelligence value for China, but the main value lies in the "message" China sent, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said on Sunday.
"I think what's embedded here is a clear message," Rubio, the ranking member of the Senate intelligence committee told CNN's "State of the Union."
"It's not a coincidence that this happens leading up to the State of the Union address, leading up to Blinken's visit to China.
"The Chinese knew that this was going to be spotted. They knew that we were going to have to react to it. They flew it over military installations and sensitive sites across -- right across the middle. I mean, look at the flight path of this thing. It's a diagonal shot right through the middle of the continental United States.
"And the message embedded in this to the world is, we can fly a balloon over airspace of the United States of America, and you won't be able to do anything about it to stop us. They calculated this carefully with a message embedded in it.
"And I think that's the part we can't forget here. It's not just the balloon. It's the message to try to send the world that America -- we can do whatever we want, and America can't stop us."
Rubio is among the so-called group of eight -- top members of Congress, who will get an intelligence briefing on the spy balloon this week. "And, probably, most of that is something we won't be able to disclose in any great detail," he said.
Rubio speculated that the Chinese were "probably trying to collect on signals, on electronic information that's transiting that they can pick up on."
He said there are other ways China can gather the same information:
"And that's why I go back to the whole point of the message. There are probably other ways that China could acquire whatever they acquired using this balloon. I may be wrong. There may be some unique attributes to it that I'm -- that I'm not aware of yet, but we will learn more about this week.
"But I think, more than anything else, beyond just the ability to collect information, it is the ability to send a clear message, and that is that we have the ability to do this, and America can't do anything about it.
"If they're not going to be able to stop a balloon from flying over U.S. airspace, how is America going to come to your aid if we invade Taiwan or take land from India or take islands from the Philippines and Japan?
"And I think the fact that they would do that leading up to State of the Union, leading up to what was then Blinken's scheduled visit, none of that is a coincidence. So, we need to understand, clearly there was messaging behind this."
Rubio said the Chinese may have flown spy balloons in or near the U.S. before, although Trump administration officials said they were not aware of that.
"What we have never seen, what is unprecedented...is a balloon flight that entered over Idaho and flew over Montana, over all these sensitive military installations, Air Force bases, ICBM fields, right across the middle of the country.
"That has never happened before. That is unprecedented. That it flew briefly over some part of the U.S. or continental U.S., that's one thing. But what we saw this week, it's unprecedented. And that's why everyone's reacting the way they're reacting. We have never seen this.
"So, this is no comparison to anything that may have happened up to this point."
Rubio wondered why President Biden didn't "go on television" and tell the public what they were seeing with their own eyes:
"He has the ability to convene the country in cameras, and basically explain what we're dealing with here and why he's made the decisions he's making and what they intend to do.
"I don't understand, once they went public with it, knowing the amount of interest this was going to generate, presidents have the ability to go before camera, go before the nation and basically explain these things early on.
"And his failure to do so is -- I don't understand that. I don't understand why he wouldn't do that. And that is the beginning of dereliction of duty. And the second is, we have to act swiftly on these things. I think that's part of the -- one of the things the Chinese are trying to message.
"And that is, the U.S. had to see this coming and decided they couldn't or wouldn't do anything about it early on, and now had to wait until this thing went across the middle of the country. And what are we going to do the next time this happens? Are we going to allow it to fly through here again, and shoot it down once it gets to the East Coast?
"I mean, these are questions the White House needs to answer. And I don't think these are partisan claims I'm making. I think there would be a broad agreement that we need to know moving forward what our policy is going to be with regards to this."
Rubio said he thinks the Chinese will send more balloons in the future: "I think you will see it again."
"We have to decide, what are we going to do the next time one of these things heads this way?" he asked. "There's all kinds of things that need to be discussed when it comes to China, because this is the issue of the 21st Century."
Chinese Spy Balloon Timeline