When the U.S. Shoots Down a High-Area Balloon and Comes to the Final States: The Case against the China-Russian Spyball
The Biden administration has faced questions over its handling of a suspected Chinese spy balloon that floated across the nation last week before being shot down in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of the Carolinas on Saturday.
The idea of shooting down a balloon that gathers information makes relations worse. Biden told PBS NewsHour’s Judy Woodruff in a wide-ranging interview a day after his second State of the Union address.
The US Defense Department, however, later clarified that those two objects “did not closely resemble the PRC balloon” shot down last week. Federal lawmakers might be getting incomplete info from military and local authorities that could put them in a tough spot.
What is the impact of this string of incidents on the political scene? Biden was criticized by Republicans for citing the possibility of injury to civilians or damage to buildings on the ground for waiting so long to shoot down the Chinese balloon earlier this month. He forcibly warned China in his subsequent State of the Union address that he would defend US sovereignty. His aides have made his response to subsequent incidents the style of a decisive commander in chief. The White House understood the political peril in waiting if Americans thought he wasn’t doing everything to defend the homeland.
The meeting was delayed until a later date, however, Biden administration officials insisted that the meeting was not canceled. That date has not yet been set.
Everybody assumed that China was in with Russia in the Ukrainian conflict. They are not all in, according to Biden. I’ve called him repeatedly this summer to make sure he knows that this isn’t a threat. Look at what has happened to Russia. Six hundred American corporations have pulled out of Russia, from McDonald’s to Exxon. I asked if you know why the United States and Europe need a relationship with China. I asked who would invest in China with the same kind of deal. You’ll notice there’s not been much going on there.’”
Biden administration officials have maintained they were able to move quickly to mitigate any intelligence collection capacity of the balloon and have countered that they will end up benefiting from the ability to collect information about the balloon and Chinese intelligence capabilities, both during its flight and in the recovery of its wreckage from the Atlantic Ocean.
The resolution condemning the Chinese Communist Party’s high altitude balloon over the US will be vote on by the House on Thursday.
This timeline of events – previously unreported – helps explain why US defense officials declined to act before the balloon had crossed over US territory. Some Republicans are accusing the administration of not sounding the alarm sooner, which has become a political flashpoint on Capitol Hill.
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And he detailed a telling observation he shared with Xi last year as US officials warned China not to provide military support to Russia in its invasion of Ukraine.
Although US officials have access to these reports, they can’t say whether or not they are included in briefings to senior policymakers, it is a matter of discretion.
The US moved to investigate the object because they saw it as an opportunity to collect intelligence.
The Chinese balloon being tracked and finally downing came a week after a flurry of attacks on unknown crafts. The Pentagon and Capitol Hill’s thin details are making an already extremely unusual international episode more confusing and strange.
Why it took so long for us to be aware of the balloons is something Jon Tester is looking into. That’s something I support. Congress needs to look at that. That’s the question we have to answer,” he said. “I think our military, our intelligence are doing a great job, present and future. I feel a lot of confidence in what they’re doing. But why, as far back as the Trump administration, did no one know about this?”
Military officials were briefed by the Senate on Tuesday about who knew what and when. On Wednesday, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee sent a letter to Biden asking about his decision-making after the balloon crossed into Alaskan airspace.
The object was detected by North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), and two F-22 fighter jets from Joint Base Elemendorf-Richardson, Alaska, were sent up to monitor the object with the help of the Alaska Air National Guard.
The Shooting Down of a High-Altitude Chinese Spy Balloon and Its Sensitive to the Safety of Air Traffic
Military officials said it is not necessarily surprising that the president was not briefed until January 31, given the expectations for the balloon at the time.
Congress is interested in the decision making process of the balloon as more information trickles out.
There are still questions to be asked about Alaska according to a Senate Republican aide. “Alaska is still part of the United States – why is that okay to transit Alaska without telling anyone, but [the continental US] is different?”
One pilot took a selfie in the cockpit that shows both the pilot and the surveillance balloon itself, these officials said – an image that has already gained legendary status in both NORAD and the Pentagon.
The White House confirmed Trudeau and the US President had authorized the shoot-down of the object, which the Pentagon said was first spotted over Alaska.
In less than a week US jets have taken down an object in two different places, the second being a suspected Chinese spy balloon off the coast of South Carolina.
Kirby told reporters that the object was tracked at a high altitude in Alaska over the past 24 hours. The Pentagon recommended that Biden shoot it down because it was deemed to pose a reasonable threat to the safety of civilian flights.
Kirby stated during the White House press briefing that the object was at an altitude of 40,000 feet and posed a reasonable risk to the safety of civilians.
According to Kirby, Biden was first briefed on the object on Thursday evening, as “soon as the Pentagon had enough information.” It “did not appear to be self-maneuvering,” Kirby said.
Kirby said that the order to shoot it down was given before they got fighter aircrafts up and around it.
The spokesman at the Pentagon presented the information later. Gen. Pat Ryder said the unknown object was shot down by a F-22 fighter jet at 1:45 pm ET over northeast Alaska. When pressed by reporters about whether the object was a balloon, Ryder said he didn’t want to “characterize” it yet. He said “we don’t know origin of this object,” but that, based on a “reasonable threat to civilian air traffic,” the decision was taken to take it down.
The Alaska National Guard and units under US Northern Command, along with HC-130 Hercules, HH-60 Pave Hawk, and CH-47 Chinook are all participating in the effort to recover the object, Ryder said.
“We’re calling this an object because that’s the best description we have right now. We don’t know who owns it – whether it’s state-owned or corporate-owned or privately-owned, we just don’t know,” Kirby said.
The object first came to the attention of the US government “last evening.” Kirby said Biden was first briefed as soon as the Pentagon had enough information.
The Shot Down of Deadhorse, Alaska, by the Chinese Superspyglen and the People’s Liberation Army
“This thing did not appear to be self-maneuvering so therefore at the mercy of prevailing winds, it was much less predictable. He said that the president was not willing to take that risk.
The Federal Aviation Administration issued a temporary flight restriction Friday in the area around Deadhorse, Alaska, as the military took action against the object.
It’s still unclear, but it appears to be quite large. The People’s Liberation Army is understood to be involved in a global operation which has resulted in the floating of the Chinese balloon over US airspace.
“Given its size, which was much smaller, and the capabilities on the fighter aircraft themselves, the speed at which they were flying, it was difficult for the pilots to glean a whole lot of information,” he said.
It is not clear what the object is or whether it is related to the spy balloon shot down last week or the unidentified object shot down over Alaska on Friday.
There was not a significant concern about damage to people or property if the object was shot down, which was the primary reason the Chinese surveillance balloon was allowed to traverse the continental US last week.
Details have been scarce about the object shot down over Alaska, but officials don’t know if it’s related to the Chinese spy balloon.
Ryder said on Friday that recovery teams have “mapped the debris field” and are “in the process of searching for and identifying debris on the ocean floor.”
“While I won’t go into specifics due to classification reasons,” Ryder said, “I can say that we have located a significant amount of debris so far that will prove helpful to our further understanding of this balloon and its surveillance capabilities.”
The subject of how lessons learned about China’s balloon aided in detecting the object shot down over Alaska was raised by a reporter Friday.
“As Canadian authorities conduct recovery operations to help our countries learn more about the object, the Federal Bureau of Investigation will be working closely with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police,” Ryder said in his Saturday statement.
Canadian Defense Minister Anita Anand tweeted Saturday that she had discussed the incident with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin “and reaffirmed that we’ll always defend our sovereignty together.”
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The statement said that recovery activities are occurring on sea ice. “We have no further details at this time about the object, including its capabilities, purpose, or origin.”
The Canadian defence minister said at the news conference that the object appears to be smaller than the balloon shot down in China.
US President Joe Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau both approved the shoot down on Saturday, according to a statement from the White House.
Pilots gave different accounts of what they observed after coming near the object, a source briefed on the intelligence told CNN; some pilots said it “interfered with their sensors,” but other pilots said they didn’t experience that.
Turner, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, stated that he preferred the US to shoot down unidentified objects over North American airspace to allow them to travel the country.
“They do appear somewhat trigger-happy, although this is certainly preferable to the permissive environment that they showed when the Chinese spy balloon was coming over some of our most sensitive sites,” Turner told Jake Tapper.
“What I think this shows, which is probably more important to our policy discussion here, is that we really have to declare that we’re going to defend our airspace. And then we need to invest,” the Ohio Republican said. Some of the gaps and problems that we have were shown in this. We need to fill those as soon as possible because we certainly now ascertain there is a threat.”
This is very frustrating for this administration. He said the Biden administration needs to stop showing congress briefings on television and instead come and brief us. “I do think that there needs to be more engagement between the administration and Congress.”
The Shooting Down of Unidentified High-Altitude Objects in the Early 2000 Airborne Collisions, as Revised by NORAD
At a news conference on Sunday, assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Hemispheric Affairs said they were taken down out of an abundance of caution.
Dalton said that high-altitude objects can be used by a range of companies, countries, and research organizations for “purposes that are not nefarious, including legitimate research.”
A US official told CNN’s Haley Britzky there has been caution inside the Biden administration on the pilot descriptions of the unidentified objects shot down over Alaska and Canada due to the circumstances in which the objects were viewed.
Canada’s chief of defense staff, Gen. Wayne Eyre, also made mention of a “balloon” when describing instructions given to the team that worked to take down the object.
Still, deputy Pentagon press secretary Sabrina Singh noted Sunday “these objects shot down on Friday and Saturday were objects and did not closely resemble the PRC balloon. When we can recover the debris, we will have more for you.”
The findings have allowed the US to develop a consistent technical method for the first time, which they have used to track the balloons in near-real time across the globe, the sources said.
As officials work to understand the sequence of events and more about objects, new speculation and criticism could be premature. CNN’s Natasha Bertrand reported on Sunday that NORAD had recently readjusted the filters it uses to sift data, which had previously concentrated on spotting fast-moving objects below a certain altitude. Early warning filters had previously been set to avoid picking up other objects, including birds and weather balloons, a source briefed on the matter said.
If the latter situation is the case, is NORAD now picking up more objects that are potentially hostile given a state of heightened alert after the Chinese balloon crisis? If the objects are suspicious is there a sudden spike in such flights or did such objects fly across the continent with impunity in the past? Given the already increased threat to civilian aircraft – for instance from more low flying drones – is this a new problem that that should concern the aviation industry?
There was an F-16 shooting down a high-altitude object on Sunday over Lake Huron, which is between Michigan and Ontario. The Pentagon said the object was not assessed to be a military threat but was a flight hazard. But it did connect the craft to a radar signal picked up earlier over Montana, the home to US intercontinental missile silos and other sensitive sites.
CNN reported earlier that a Michigan lawmaker said she got a call from the Department of Defense telling her that the US military was close by an object above Lake Huron.
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill want answers. On the one side of the aisle there were differing responses to the news of more objects being shot down.
Turner’s Democratic counterpart on the Intelligence panel, Connecticut Rep. Jim Himes, told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he had “real concerns about why the administration is not being more forthcoming with everything that it knows,” before adding, “My guess is that there’s just not a lot of information out there to share.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, meanwhile, said Congress needs to investigate why it took so long for the US to catch on to the Chinese government’s use of spy balloons.
A political storm is threatening after US fighter jets shot down a trio of mysterious objects over the North American continent.
The intrigue is unfolding against a tense global situation with the US leading the way in an effective proxy war against Russia in Ukraine, as well as difficult relations with China becoming even more hostile.
On Sunday, Jon Tester of Montana said on CBS that things have gone on in the last two weeks or so, “nothing short of craziness.” The Democratic senator spoke hours before a missile was shot down over Lake Michigan.
The US Northern Command and NORAD shot down several objects in the US over the weekend, according to the commander.
The events of the last few days are likely to cause serious national security and political questions that can only be assessed once more details are understood.
If they are not related to China, are the latest strange objects flying over North America linked to some other hostile power or group, corporate or private entity? Are they even connected to one another or are they simply the result of coincidences at a time of heightened awareness and tensions?
Such speculation may be premature. But fierce political debate over the balloon has clearly changed Biden’s tolerance threshold for unknown aerial objects.
Biden didn’t address the new invasions at a black-tie event with state governors on Saturday and has yet to speak to Americans in person about them.
The lack of specificity is unlikely to quell speculation or partisan maneuvering in Washington. At the start of a new presidential election cycle and in a polarized political age when social media magnifies conspiracy theories, this odd series of incidents is heaping fresh pressure on Biden following recriminations after his decision to wait until the Chinese balloon had crossed the country before shooting it down over water.
There are many positives that they did not get before. Most of that is going to be airplanes, whatever it may be,” said Kayyem, a former assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security.
“What we can’t answer now is, is this bigger aperture picking up lots of stuff that has essentially been forgiven, around in the skies, because it didn’t pose a threat, or is it part of something organized for whatever surveillance?”
There was more confusion on Sunday. Schumer said that the two objects shot down over Alaskan were smaller than the original Chinese invader, after being briefed by Biden’s national security adviser.
Republican Rep. Matt Rosendale of Montana appeared to make a direct link Sunday on “CNN Newsroom” between the Chinese balloon and the latest objects, even if there is no confirmation so far that they are connected.
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He said that he doesn’t feel safe knowing that these devices are smaller. “I am very concerned with the cumulative data that is being collected. … I need some answers, and the American people need answers.”