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US has tracked suspected Chinese surveillance balloons flying over sensitive sites

Posted by on 2023/02/03. Filed under Breaking News,Headline News,International. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

The US government has detected a high-altitude surveillance balloon over the US mainland that officials believe belongs to China, the Pentagon said on Tuesday. But Chinese state media quoted experts as saying the US accusation that China was using balloons for surveillance was “nonsense”.

The balloon entered U.S. airspace on Feb.1 and then passed over the northwestern state of Montana. Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana is home to one of three nuclear silos in the United States. A senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the balloon’s flight path did pass over sensitive military sites and was “clearly intended for surveillance.”

But U.S. military leaders decided not to shoot it down because of concerns about falling debris.

Canada said on Friday (Feb 3) it was monitoring a “possible second incident” involving reconnaissance balloons, but did not identify the country behind it. In a statement, Canada said it was working closely with the United States to “protect Canadian sensitive information from foreign intelligence threats.”

“Until the facts are clarified, speculation and hyping will not help solve the problem properly,” she said.

A senior US defence official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the government had prepared fighter jets, including F-22s, in case the White House ordered it shot down.

Senior military leaders, including Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, met on Wednesday to assess the threat. Austin was traveling in the Philippines.

But they advised against taking “kinetic action” against the balloon because falling debris could pose a danger to people on the ground.
The sparsely populated state of Montana is home to Malmstrom Air Force Base and one of only three nuclear missile silos in the United States. Officials said it was apparently a reconnaissance balloon that was gathering information over sensitive locations.

But the defence official said there was “no significantly increased threat” of US intelligence being compromised because US officials “knew exactly where the balloon was and exactly where it was traveling”.

He also said there was no threat to civil aviation because the balloon’s altitude was “substantially” higher than that used by commercial airlines.

The defense official said the United States had raised the issue with Chinese officials at the Chinese Embassy in Washington and in Beijing.

Social media users in Montana were baffled, with some Posting images of a white circular object in the sky. Others reported seeing American military aircraft in the area, apparently spying on the object.

The incident was widely discussed on Chinese social media, with many amused by the reported use of balloons for surveillance.
“Why do we need balloons when we have so many satellites?” “One user wrote on Weibo.

Marco Rubio, a Republican senator and vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, slammed China’s so-called balloons.
“Over the past 5 years, China’s espionage against our country has become significantly more aggressive and blatant,” he tweeted.

Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte, a Republican, said in a statement that he had been briefed and that the situation was’ deeply troubling. ‘
CIA Director William Burns, speaking at an unrelated event in Washington DC on Thursday, did not mention balloons but called China the “greatest geopolitical challenge” facing the US today.

The surveillance balloon is likely to raise tensions ahead of a visit to China next week by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. The top US diplomat will hold talks in Beijing on a wide range of issues including security, Taiwan and COVID-19.

Balloons are one of the oldest surveillance techniques. Compared to other aerial surveillance devices, they can be operated without personnel, are inexpensive and can be kept aloft for long periods of time.

China’s response

China’s state-run Global Times reported on Friday that several experts in the field believed the U.S. accusation was groundless, and that the possibility of sounding balloons flying from the Chinese mainland to the U.S. mainland was very small, let alone “conducting surveillance activities over the U.S.”.

Liu Ming, a space technology information expert and head of Mientropy Technology, a technology intelligence company, was quoted as saying that the probability of such a sounding balloon flying from mainland China to the United States is extremely small.

Liu Ming believed that such sounding balloons usually flew at stratospheric altitude, and the direction was difficult to control. They usually flew by wind or controlled the direction through “air generation”. Therefore, the life cycle of balloons was limited, and it was very unlikely that they could be released from Chinese mainland and flown to important military sites in the US. The balloons are more likely to have come from merchant ships sailing off the west coast of the United States.

As tensions rise between the United States and China, the news that China may have sent surveillance balloons to the United States has rocked relations again. The US has urgently contacted Beijing “through multiple channels” and stressed that it will “take all necessary steps to protect the people and territory of the United States”.

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