US being tracked by Chinese spy balloon - Dispatch Weekly

February 3, 2023 - Reading time: 5 minutes

​The US is keeping tabs on a possible Chinese surveillance balloon that has recently been seen flying over important locations.

Defense authorities stated that they had no doubt that China was the owner of the “high-altitude surveillance balloon.” Most recently, it was spotted flying above Montana in the west.

In case pieces fell, the military chose against shooting it down.

China issued a warning against “hype” and speculation before the facts are established.

Canada announced on Friday that it was keeping an eye on “a possible second incident” involving a surveillance balloon, although it did not identify the possible perpetrator. According to the statement, it closely collaborates with the US to “protect Canada’s sensitive information against threats from foreign intelligence.”

Before surfacing over the city of Billings in Montana on Wednesday, the object went across Alaska’s Aleutian Islands and through Canada, according to officials.

Under the condition of anonymity, a senior defence official claimed that the government had fighter jets, including F-22s, ready in case the White House ordered the object to be shot down.

Leading military figures met on Wednesday to assess the threat, including Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin and US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Mark Milley. At the time, Mr. Austin was on the road in the Philippines.

At Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana, one of only three nuclear missile silo fields in the nation, officials claimed the alleged spy plane was flying over key locations to gather intelligence.

But because of the risk that falling debris would pose to persons on the ground, they warned against taking “kinetic action” against the balloon.

However, the defence official claimed that because US officials “know exactly where this balloon is and exactly where it’s passing over,” there is no “substantially heightened threat” of US intelligence being exposed.

Because the balloon was “much” higher than the altitude employed by commercial airlines, he continued, there was also no danger to civil aviation.

According to the official, it’s unlikely that the balloon will provide much more information than what China can already gather from satellites.

The official noted that the US had brought up the issue with Chinese authorities at their embassies in Beijing and Washington, DC.

China’s spokesperson for the foreign ministry, Mao Ning, stated that Beijing is currently verifying the allegations of the surveillance balloon and added in remarks published by AFP that “creating conjectures and hyping the situation would not assist to properly settle it” until the facts are clear.

Officials at the Pentagon declined to provide the aircraft’s current position during the briefing on Thursday. Further information on the object, including its size, was also rejected.

Despite being rather high in the sky, there have been instances of pilots spotting this object, the unnamed defence source added. “So, yeah, it’s big,” she said.

Such surveillance balloons had previously been traced, they continued, but this one “seemed to hang out for a longer amount of time this time around.”

It perplexed Montanans on social media, with some sharing pictures of a faint circular object far in the sky. Others claimed to have observed US military aircraft in the region, probably keeping watch over the item.

Chase Doak, a Billings office worker, told the AP news agency that he saw the “huge white circle in the sky” and ran home to get a better camera after noticing it.

He remarked, “I felt it might be a real UFO. Therefore, I wanted to be sure to record it and take as many pictures as I could.

Although the episode has not been covered by Chinese state media, it is being widely discussed on Chinese social media, with many people finding it amusing that balloons were reportedly used for surveillance.

One user on Weibo commented, “Why would we need to utilise a balloon when we have so many satellites?”

The leading Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Marco Rubio, criticised China’s purported balloon.

He tweeted, “Over the last 5 years, Beijing’s degree of espionage aimed at our country has grown considerably more aggressive & audacious.”

Republican governor of Montana Greg Gianforte stated in a statement that he had been informed of the “very worrisome” circumstances.

The balloon was not mentioned by CIA Director William Burns, who was speaking at a separate event in Washington, DC, on Thursday. Instead, he referred to China as the US’s “greatest geopolitical concern” at the time.

In advance of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s trip to China the following week, the purported spy vessel is sure to exacerbate relations. An official from the Biden administration’s cabinet will be making their first trip to the nation.

In Beijing, the senior US diplomat will hold discussions on a variety of topics, including security, Taiwan, and Covid-19.

The Financial Times reported on Thursday that he will also meet with Xi Jinping, the president of China.

One of the earliest types of surveillance technology are balloons. They are cheaper to operate than other air surveillance equipment and can stay in the air for extended periods of time.

DW Staff

David Lintott is the Editor-in-Chief, leading our team of talented freelance journalists. He specializes in covering culture, sport, and society. Originally from the decaying seaside town of Eastbourne, he attributes his insightful world-weariness to his roots in this unique setting.