Pentagon Tracking Suspected Chinese High-Altitude Surveillance Balloon Over The US
The U.S. Defense Department said it is tracking a suspected Chinese high-altitude surveillance balloon that has been flying over the United States for past few days.
“The United States government has detected and is tracking a high-altitude surveillance balloon that is over the continental United States right now,” Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said during an impromptu briefing.
He told reporters that the intelligence-gathering balloon was “most certainly launched by the People’s Republic of China.”
“The U.S. government, including the North American Aerospace Defense Command, continues to track and monitor it closely.”
Ryder said the balloon is well above commercial air traffic and doesn’t pose a threat to civil aviation.
Ryder said the U.S. government “acted immediately” to protect against the collection of sensitive information after the balloon was detected, but he didn’t specify what measures were taken.
A senior defense official who participated in the briefing on background said the U.S. officials informed China “with urgency, through multiple channels” regarding the presence of the balloon.
“We have communicated to them the seriousness with which we take this issue. We have made clear we will do whatever is necessary to protect our people and our homeland,” the official said.
Following recommendations of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley and Air Force Gen. Glen D. VanHerck, commander of U.S. Northern Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command, the military decided not to shoot the balloon down, but rather allow it to continue to float above the United States.
Using kinetic force to take the balloon out of the sky might put civilian communities at risk, including the falling debris, and that the threat the balloon poses now to both safety and U.S. intelligence doesn’t justify such an action, according to the Pentagon.
Their assessment is that the balloon has limited additive value from an intelligence collective collection perspective. “But we are taking steps, nevertheless, to protect against foreign intelligence collection of sensitive information,” the official said.
This is not the first time such a balloon has been seen above the United States, but this time the balloon appears to be acting differently than what has been seen in the past, he told reporters.
“It is appearing to hang out for a longer period of time, this time around, (and is) more persistent than in previous instances. That would be one distinguishing factor.”
The balloon, which is “large enough to cause damage from the debris field”, was seen over Montana on Wednesday.
There have been reports of pilots seeing this balloon, even though it’s pretty high up in the sky.
NORAD and US Northern Command said in a joint statement that the balloon is currently travelling at an altitude well above commercial air traffic.
The Chinese spy balloon was detected just a week ahead of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to China to hold talks on a wide range of issues.
U.S. national security officials have previously expressed concern over Beijing’s espionage efforts targeting the United States.
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