Joe Biden dithers in the face of imminent Chinese Threat
The Chinese Foreign Ministry on Friday initially denied any knowledge of the huge surveillance balloon floating through American airspace, then claimed it was a weather research “airship.”
The Pentagon responded to baffled questions about why the incredibly well-funded U.S. military was unable to detect, thwart, or destroy the balloon by claiming that attacking it could jeopardize people on the ground in Montana.
“I have noted relevant reports. We are gathering and verifying the facts,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said when asked about the balloon.
“China is a responsible country and we always act in accordance with international law. We have no intention to violate the territory or airspace of any sovereign country,” she insisted.
“As I said, we are gathering and verifying the facts. We hope both sides can handle the matter together in a cool-headed and prudent manner,” she said.
Mao said she had “no comment” about whether the balloon incident would affect U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s planned visit to China.
Later on Friday morning, the Chinese Foreign Ministry released a statement that claimed the balloon was a “civilian airship” conducting meteorological research that “deviated far from its planned course” due to strong winds.
“The Chinese side regrets the unintended entry of the airship into U.S. airspace due to force majeure,” the Foreign Ministry said, indicating the flight path of the balloon was beyond the control of its operators.
The Pentagon said on Thursday it was “confident” the large white balloon drifting over Montana with a hefty payload of electronics suspended beneath it was a surveillance craft of Chinese origin.
Pentagon officials said they had “urgently” contacted Chinese officials about the balloon and alerted President Joe Biden. On Friday, a U.S. official said the administration was in direct contact with Beijing at “multiple levels,” and the State Department summoned a Chinese official to file a formal complaint.
According to CBS News, President Biden wanted to shoot the balloon down, but advisers, including Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley, recommended against “kinetic action” because the balloon seemed to pose no immediate threat, and debris from an interception could endanger people on the ground.
Gen Milley in 2021 –
| National Security
China's spy balloon caught hovering over Montana missile silo could be 120ft helium-powered airship that's equipped with surveillance cameras and radar
Experts warn they are 'key delivery platforms' for secret nuclear attacks
The Pentagon's rejection of China's claim that a balloon detected floating over nuclear sites in the US is a 'civilian' airship raises further questions about its surveillance capabilities.
Analysts predict the balloon is about the size of 'three buses' and could be fitted with high-tech equipment including cameras, sensors and radar.
Use of balloons to conduct spy missions dates back to the Cold War but modern-day systems can take advantage of the latest developments in surveillance technology.
The balloon was floating about 60,000ft above the center of the continental United States at midday ET on Friday, the Pentagon said. The balloon's path had taken it over Montana, triggering fears it was gathering intelligence on nuclear missile sites in the state.
China claimed on Friday morning that it is a civilian balloon used for meteorological and weather research. But in a briefing at the Pentagon several hours later, Brigadier General Patrick Ryder said: 'We know it's a surveillance balloon.'
Worryingly, defense analysts have previously claimed that a balloon could be used as a 'delivery platform' for nuclear weapons.
A 2015 report for the American Leadership & Policy Foundation said balloons launched by rogue states could carry nuclear payloads over the United States which could be use launch strikes or interfere with the electrical grid.
Report author Air Force Major David Stuckenberg wrote: 'Using a balloon as a [weapon of mass destruction] platform could provide adversaries with a pallet of altitudes and payload options with which to maximize offensive effects against the U.S.
'A high altitude balloon could be designed, created, and launched in a matter of months. There is nothing to prevent several hundred pounds of weapons material from being delivered to altitude.'
Stuckenberg said on Friday China's balloon was 'likely a type of dry run meant to send a strategic message to the USA'.
The size of the balloon currently floating over the US is about the equivalent of three bus lengths, defense expert John Parachini has said.
Images taken from the ground show a device fixed to the balloon is fitted with large solar panels, which power the on-board monitoring equipment and also a system to maneuver the balloon.
The Pentagon has said the balloon 'has the ability to maneuver', although it's not clear how well it can be controlled. Jet streams at such high altitudes make it extremely difficult to control the balloon's path. China has also claimed the balloon ended up over the US because of its limited steering capability.
Equipment fitted to such a spy balloon is likely to include a long-range camera and radar to determine the presence and movement of harder-to-detect objects.
Such a balloon would also be fitted with a communication device that can relay the findings in real-time back to its controller.
Interestingly, officials believe the balloon is no more effective than Chinese satellites which can also be used to conduct surveillance of the United States.
Chinese spy satellites carry similar sensors to what U.S. officials believe is on the spy balloon, raising questions about why Beijing would risk such a brazen act on the eve of Blinken's now-postponed visit.
Still, the Chinese spy balloon has taken a flight path that would carry it over a number of sensitive sites, officials say. One such site could be military bases, including in Montana, which is home to intercontinental ballistic missile silos.
A Pentagon official said: 'Clearly, they're trying to fly... this balloon over sensitive sites... to collect information.'
‘This Is Really Egregious’: Former Trump Nat Sec Official Slams Biden Admin’s Inaction On Chinese Spy Balloon
A former national security official in the Trump administration blasted President Joe Biden Friday over inaction as a Chinese spy balloon drifted across the United States.
“When you look at that balloon and if you look at the package closely, the sensor package, that seems about the size of a fire truck. It’s massive, and people need to understand where that thing is moving to. It’s going across the northwest, moving to the south, but the fact is it’s going across all of our major missile fields out there,” retired Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg, a former national security advisor to Mike Pence, told “America Reports” co-host John Roberts.
“It’s going across the location where the 341st Missile wing, the 90th Missile Wing, the 91st, all of our 400 missile sites are under it. And the thing is, people don’t realize the slant range on the sensors is huge, because it’s like ok, I’m on the first floor of a building and I look out, different on the 50th floor of the building so they are looking deep and vacuuming information. And the beauty that balloons give you, they can loiter, they can stay a long time, clearly and so what they are doing, they’re just collecting information on us, and I think it’s really unfortunate we have not done something about it,” Kellogg added. “I mean, this is really egregious.”
The Department of Defense (DOD) announced Thursday that it had tracked the Chinese balloon as it crossed over Montana, where the 341st Missile Wing is based at Malmstrom Air Force Base. The DOD said it opted against shooting down the balloon for fear of causing casualties and damage on the ground during a background briefing Thursday.
China claims the balloon was a civilian meteorological airship that went off course.
“They just should knock it down. In Montana, nine people per square mile. I mean, there’s not a lot – there’s a lot of space out there, and they should have made those decisions early like Gillian said when that thing was coming earlier, they make the decision where to do it and when to do it out there,” Kellogg said.
“If you knock it down, look at the sensor package, what kind of sensors are these, and this is the thing – it’s not collecting and holding it, it’s transmitting this information back and every day it sits out there it’s collecting information and sending it back,” Kellogg continued. “We don’t know what it’s collecting, don’t know if it’s SIGINT, we don’t know if it’s human intelligence, we don’t know what it is out there, we do know it’s collecting.”
Other former Trump administration officials, including Republican Rep. Ryan Zinke of Montana, a former Navy SEAL who also served as Secretary of the Interior, called for the Biden administration to down the balloon.