Pentagon tracking Chinese ‘spy balloon’ flying over US

Lazy eyes listen


The Pentagon is keeping an eye on a Chinese spy balloon that has been flying over the United States for a few days, according to US officials on Thursday.

On Wednesday, fighter jets were scrambled and military leaders considered shooting down the balloon over Montana, but advised President Joe Biden against it for fear of debris posing a safety risk, according to US officials.

When the balloon entered US airspace, the US took “custody” of it and observed it with piloted US military aircraft, an official who requested anonymity told reporters.

Chase Noak, a Billings, Montana, resident who filmed the balloon on February 1, said he initially mistook it for a star.
“But I thought that was kind of crazy because it was broad daylight and it was just too big to be a star,” he told Reuters news agency.

The balloon’s appearance comes just days before US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s planned trip to Beijing.
Separately, Canada’s defense ministry said it was keeping an eye out for a “potential second incident” after a “high-altitude surveillance balloon” was spotted. It did not provide any additional information, but did state that it was in regular contact with the US.

The news first broke while CIA Director William Burns was speaking at a Georgetown University event, where he called China the “biggest geopolitical challenge” the US is currently facing.

“The United States government has detected and is tracking a high-altitude surveillance balloon that is currently over the continental United States,” said Pentagon spokesperson Brigadier General Patrick Ryder.

“At the moment, the balloon is traveling at an altitude well above commercial air traffic and poses no military or physical threat to people on the ground.”

The Chinese foreign ministry did not immediately respond to Reuters’ request for comment.

According to US officials, they raised the issue with their Chinese counterparts through diplomatic channels. “We have communicated to them the importance we place on this issue,” a US official said.

An official stated that the balloon’s current flight path would take it over a number of sensitive sites, but no further details were provided. 150 intercontinental ballistic missile silos are housed at Montana’s Malmstrom Air Force Base.

However, the balloon was determined to have “limited additive value from an intelligence collection standpoint.”

The spy balloon was alarming but not surprising, according to US Senator Marco Rubio, the top Republican on the Senate intelligence committee.

“The level of espionage directed at our country by Beijing has grown dramatically more intense and brazen in the last 5 years,” Mr Rubio tweeted.

Mr. Blinken is scheduled to visit China next week, as agreed upon by Mr. Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping in November. It was unclear how the spy balloon’s discovery would affect those plans.