Chinese spy balloon flew over the U.S.
A suspicious Chinese “spy balloon” has been flying over the United States for several days. Senior U.S. officials have advised U.S. President Joe Biden not to shoot it down, fearing that the wreckage could pose a threat to the safety of people and ground facilities.
“The United States government has located and is tracking a high-altitude reconnaissance balloon that is right now over the continental United States,” General Patrick Ryder told reporters.
“The balloon is currently flying at an altitude well above the ceiling for commercial flights and poses no military or physical threat to people on the ground,” he added.
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the spy balloon is alarming but not surprising.
“The level of espionage directed against our country by Beijing has increased dramatically in the last 5 years, becoming more intense and brazen,” Rubio wrote on Twitter.
The news came as CIA Director William Burns was speaking at an event at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., where he called China “the biggest geopolitical problem” the United States currently faces.
U.S.-China relations have recently been strained over Taiwan, human rights abuses in the PRC and Beijing’s military activity in the South China Sea.
U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken is scheduled to visit China in the coming days.
A senior U.S. Defense Department official, informing reporters on condition of anonymity, said the United States has been “monitoring” the balloon since it entered U.S. airspace a couple of days ago and is monitoring it with military aircraft.
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, during a trip to the Philippines on Wednesday, called a meeting of senior Pentagon officials to discuss the balloon incident.
Potential threat to U.S. security
The military command considered shooting down the balloon over Montana Wednesday, but ultimately advised Biden not to do so because of the threat of debris falling on people.
The Billings, Montana, airport was closed while the military mobilized assets, including F-22 fighter jets, in case Biden ordered the balloon shot down.
We wanted to make sure we coordinated with civilian authorities to clear the airspace around that potential area. But even with the protective measures taken, our military command felt we hadn’t reduced the risk enough. So we didn’t fire.
The current flight path would allow the balloon to fly over several important targets, but did not name them. There are 150 intercontinental ballistic missile silos at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana.
Its flight path is above the echelons of civilian air traffic and below “outer space.”
U.S. officials raised the issue in talks with their Chinese counterparts through diplomatic channels in Beijing and Washington.
Spy balloons have flown over the United States several times in recent years, but this balloon appears to have been delayed longer than on previous occasions.
This balloon has limited value, in terms of intelligence gathering, but we are nonetheless taking steps to protect our space from the gathering of sensitive information by foreign intelligence.
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