The US Navy released pictures of the Chinese spy balloon recovery effort

Editor’s Note: The Cost of Chaos: The President’s First Presidential Lecture in Washington, D.C. Bergen’s Air Force Service and the Grand Union Project

Editor’s Note: Peter Bergen is CNN’s national security analyst, a vice president at New America and a professor of practice at Arizona State University. Bergen is the author of The Cost of Chaos: The Trump Administration and the World. The opinions expressed in this commentary are of his own. CNN has more opinions on it.

And it reminded me that when my father, Tom Bergen, was a lieutenant in the US Air Force in the mid-1950s, he worked on a program to help send balloons into Soviet airspace.

He was assigned to the Headquarters Air Material Command in 1954. There he worked on the “Grand Union” project, which deployed balloons that carried cameras over the then-Soviet Union. The spy balloons were launched from Turkey.

The program has been declassified since it happened in around seven decades ago and my dad did not talk about it much during his career.

The balloon incursion into the U.S. prompted the Pentagon to adjust radar to look for similar activities over Alaska, Canada, and Lake Huron

The officials added that understanding the components of the balloon is vital intelligence and could be “important pieces of evidence for future criminal charges that could be brought.”

The US and its rivals now have spy satellites, which can take photos. They are capable of doing full- motion video. They can use thermal imagery to see people at night. It’s a lot easier to spy on things when the skies are clear.

Commercial satellite imagery is getting so cheap you can buy your own close-up images of Russian battle group in Ukrainian. Just ask Maxar, they built up a profitable business on the same model that was just acquired for $6 billion by a private equity firm.

A US official suggested that the US will explore taking action against PRC entities linked to thePLA that supported the balloon incursion into the US, because they have been called a violation of US sovereignty and international law.

It may help explain why the US Office of Director of National Intelligence published a little-noticed report last month.

The balloon’s prolonged incursion into U.S. airspace prompted the Pentagon to adjust how it is using radar to look for similar activities, resulting in the U.S. detecting — and shooting down — three unidentified objects over the past weekend over Alaska, Canada’s Yukon territory, and Lake Huron.

Detection of F-35 Flares from an Airborne Flying Astronomical Balloon at the Headquarters of the US Naval Intelligence Mission

China has done worse. US officials have accused it of benefiting from the work of hackers who stole design data about the F-35 fighter aircraft as China builds its own new generation of fighters – and of sucking up much of the personal information of more than 20 million Americans who were current or former members of the US government when they reportedly got inside the computers of the US Office of Personnel Management (OPM) in 2015. China called the F-35 theft report “baseless” and denied responsibility for the OPM hacking.

CNN has asked the Chinese Embassy in Washington for comment on the suggestion that the balloon that was shot down is part of a wider surveillance program.

A few of those flights have been within US airspace, although not necessarily over US territory, according to one official familiar with the intelligence.

Many balloons can be discounted from the list of those shot down: weather balloon flights are short and don’t drift at 12-km altitudes, for example. But that still leaves plenty unaccounted for worldwide. Robert Rohde, a scientist at the Berkeley Earth organization who lives in Switzerland, says that there are flights on a daily basis. I think that it’s related to one of those categories.

The link to the broader surveillance program, which was uncovered before the latest balloon was spotted last week, was first reported by the Washington Post.

The intelligence community decided that the balloon had an electronic component, so the FBI became aware of it on February 1, the officials said. By late Sunday – the day after the balloon was shot down – agents had arrived at the scene, and the first pieces of recovered evidence arrived at the FBI lab in Quantico on Monday.

One of the possibilities is that it is part of a program Washington describes as “coordinated and military-affiliated.” If that is the case, it would be up to President Hu Jintao to know about it.

China has an expression of “regret” over the incident, although it maintains the vessel was thrown off course by the US.

Several defense officials and other sources briefed on intelligence say the Chinese explanation isn’t believable and that the balloon’s path was intentional.

This elite team consists of agents, analysts, engineers and scientists, who are responsible for both creating technical surveillance measures and analyzing those of the US’ adversaries.

ODA personnel are responsible for the management of court authorized data collection and for defeating attempts by foreign intelligence agencies to penetrate the us, but they also constructed surveille devices used by the FBI to focus on national security threats.

A member of the House Intelligence Committee said there were a number of reasons why they wouldn’t do that. We want to collect off it, you want to see where it’s going and what it’s doing.

The US has procedures in place to make sure sensitive locations don’t get caught in the middle of overhead surveillance, like satellite overflight.

The navy said on Monday that it had recovered a suspected Chinese spy balloon over the Atlantic Ocean and it would not have been killed by force majeure

The Navy released a number of photos of its recovery of a suspected Chinese spy balloon, which it shot down over the Atlantic Ocean on Saturday.

The commander of US Northern Command told reporters on Monday that a balloon was over 200 feet tall and had a payloads of more than a few thousand pounds.

The officials told lawmakers one of the reasons the balloon was not first shot down when it entered Alaskan airspace is that the waters there are cold and deep, making it less likely they could have recovered the balloon, according to the sources.

“[F]rom a safety standpoint, picture yourself with large debris weighing hundreds if not thousands of pounds falling out of the sky. That’s really what we’re kind of talking about,” VanHerck said on Monday. Potentially hazardous material like glass off of solar panels, which would have to be used for batteries, and also the risk of explosives to explode and destroy the balloon in this situation, makes this possibly the most dangerous place to live in.

The time period given to us gave us a chance to assess what they were doing, what kind of capabilities existed on the balloon, and I think you will see over time that it was well worth the value in the end.

The Chinese side repeatedly informed the US side that the blimp was for civilian use and it entered the US because of force majeure, says a statement from the Foreign Ministry.

China refused a call from Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin after the balloon shootdown and then demanded that Secretary of State Antony Blinken cancel his trip there on Friday, according to reports. New sanctions in response to the balloon would likely further inflame tensions.

China admitted on Monday that it owned the balloon, saying it had deviated from the flight course in a mistake.

“China is a responsible country,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said on Monday. We have always followed international law. The situation did not pose any threats to any countries, and we properly handled it.

The Pentagon’s Look at the Balloon-Balloon Connection: Rep. Mike Quigley in Analytic Sessions on Capitol Hill

But senior Biden officials faced pointed questions on Capitol Hill from lawmakers in public hearings and classified briefings as Congress is demanding more information about why the balloon wasn’t shot down sooner.

An official says that the Biden administration determined that the Chinese balloon was capable of looking into US communications.

Sources familiar with the report said that lawmakers were told the order to send the balloon was not sent by the Chinese President.

One official said only theopy, wiring, and a very small amount of electronics were delivered to FBI analysts so far. The official said analysts have not yet seen the “payload,” which is where you would expect to see the “lion’s share” of electronics.

“We did not assess that it presented a significant collection hazard beyond what already exists in actionable technical means from the Chinese,” said Gen. Glenn VanHerck, the commander of US Northern Command and NORAD, on Monday.

The US had little new intel gleaned from the Chinese balloon operation due to the fact the Chinese stopped sending information once the US became aware of the balloon, as well as measures to safeguard sensitive intel from China, according to the officials.

The sources said that a number of Republicans railing against the administration at the House briefing Thursday morning, including one who said that the president looked weak by their actions.

“The Pentagon was telling us they were able to mitigate in real-time as this was taking place and I believe that’s accurate,” Rep. Mike Quigley, an Illinois Democrat, told CNN.”I believe the preeminent concern they had, as they expressed in real time, was the safety of US citizens.”

“I believe that the administration, the president, our military and intelligence agencies, acted skillfully and with care. At the same time, their capabilities are extraordinarily impressive. Was everything done right? I can’t imagine that would happen to almost anything we do. Romney said Thursday he came away more confident.


Defense officials confronted with China about a “flew spy balloon over the US” on Thursday: How does China look at the intelligence?

Democrats confronted defense officials at the Appropriations Committee on Thursday about how they could say it was not a military threat, with one telling them he didn’t know how they could say that.

I need you to help me understand why this baby was not taken out earlier and why I told you that this is not the last time. We have seen brief incursions now we have seen a long incursion, what should happen next? asked Jon Tester, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee.

The official said that based on China’s “messaging and public comments, it’s clear that they have been scrambling to explain why they violated US sovereignty and still have no plausible explanation – and have found themselves on their heels.”

Pentagon officials said at the hearing that the Defense Department was not concerned about the balloon gathering intelligence over Alaska as it was not near sensitive sites.

The US military says crews using salvage equipment have recovered parts of a Chinese balloon that was shot down near the coast of South Carolina ten days ago.

The officials said it wasn’t clear where the balloon’s parts were manufactured, but whether they were made in America. Because analysts have yet to look at the bulk of the equipment on the balloon, the officials said that there has not been a determination as to everything the device was capable of doing and its specific intent.

There is no evidence of any kind of bomb that would pose a danger to the American public.

Some of the parts of the balloon that were found were written in English, though they were not high-tech components, one of the sources familiar with the congressional briefings said. The source wouldn’t give details on what part of the balloon contained English writing.

The U.S. “flew spy balloons into Chinese airspace” more than 10 times in the last two years, according to Beijing’s accusations.

Biden officials expressed the belief that both the senior leadership of the People’s Liberation Army and Chinese Communist Party, including Xi, were also unaware of the balloon mission over the US, and that China is still trying to figure out how this happened, a source familiar with the Thursday briefing to Congress told CNN.

CNN reported that an assessment was sent to American lawmakers in briefings last Thursday that could suggest a lack of coordination within the Chinese system at a fraught time in China-US relations.

It could mean that Xi and his top advisers underestimated the potential gravity of the fallout of the mission and the possibility it could imperil Blinken’s visit, which would have been the first from the most senior US diplomat since 2018 and had been welcomed by Beijing as a path to easing strained ties.

Beijing, in a statement last weekend, appeared to link the device to “companies,” rather than the government or military – though in China the prominence of state-owned enterprises and a robust military-industrial complex blurs the line between the two.

Drew Thompson, a Singapore-based analyst, believes that the situation could have gotten worse because of the level of control that the president had over the party.

He said that because lower-level officials may not be equipped to make political judgments, they may not be allowed to closely monitor such missions. Lower and higher ranking officials have power struggles.

“There is a tension throughout the Chinese system – it’s a feature of Chinese governance, where lower levels fight for their own autonomy, and upper levels fight for greater control,” he said.

Past crises in China have pointed to these tensions, including the outbreaks of both SARS in 2002-2003 and more recently Covid-19, where reporting delays were widely seen as having slowed the response and compounded the problem. Some blamed local officials who were used to a system where information flowed from the top down, not the bottom up.

Balloon launches could also fall into a gap in which operations were not managed or overseen in the same way as space or other aircraft missions, according to Dali Yang, a political scientist at the University of Chicago.

In this case, entities launching balloons may have received “little or no push back from other countries, including the United States” and “increasingly seen such launches as routine based on weather conditions and at modest costs,” Yang said.

“As a result, while the leaders of these programs have also become emboldened over time to test new routes, it was likely that they didn’t get top priority attention from the perspective of political risk,” he said.

Comments on Xi’s recent disappointing encounter with the Pentagon and the response of Washington to the G20 summit in Bali: A case for spy balloons or a foreign nation?

The Foreign Ministry gave a public explanation of what happened more than a day after the Pentagon announced it was tracking a suspected balloon.

Alfred is an associate professor at the NUS Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. I don’t think it’s possible for him to allow that kind of autonomy.

Instead, Xi may have been comfortable with an incident that diverted the attention of a public frustrated amid a faltering economy after years under the recently dismantled zero-Covid policy – but underestimated the US domestic response that resulted in the postponed talks, Wu said.

Meanwhile, Washington may be offering its message that Xi wasn’t aware of the situation as it seeks to “continue the dialogue” started during a meeting between Xi and US President Joe Biden at the G20 summit in Bali, according to Wu.

“I know there have been questions and concerns about this, but there is no — again no — indication of aliens (or) extraterrestrial activity,” said Karine Jean-Pierre, White House press secretary, during a Monday briefing.

John Kirby, National Security Council spokesman, said that the U.S. can’t say what the objects were until they have chance to analyze the debris. But, he added, there is no sign yet that the objects might have been spy balloons operated by China or another foreign nation.

Identifying Unidentified Objects with High-Altitude Balloons: Application to Research, Education, Entertainment, and Research Organizations

According to the US National Weather Service, weather balloons are launched twice daily from almost 900 locations around the world. They transmit data about temperature, humidity, pressure and location. The balloons expand at altitude to about 6 metres in diameter. The flights are designed to last for a few hours and go up to 30 km.

Even individual citizens can launch their own high-altitude balloon for research, educational or entertainment purposes. Emily Calandrelli, an engineer and media personality, documented the experience of her sonogram on a high-altitude balloon in 2019. There are also a few companies exploring ways to use technologically advanced balloons to send paying customers on high-altitude adventures aboard a luxurious capsule.

Here’s a look at how high-altitude balloons work, what they’re commonly used for, and how they compare with the unidentified objects in all the latest headlines.

He added that China’s purported campaign isn’t new, and it’s likely that we’re hearing more about these objects now only because the military is getting better at identifying and tracking them.

The objects were brought down by military jets out of an “abundance of caution” as they didn’t pose a real threat, according to the assistant secretary of defense.

In addition, there are a number of companies, countries and research organizations that are able to use high-altitude objects for legitimate research, along with other non-nefarious purposes.

High-Altitude Science Balloons: How to Get There? The Case of Two Disoriented Atmospheric Objects

The different configurations and types of high-altitude balloon function using the same principles. Prior to launch, the balloon is partially filled with a gas, such as hydrogen or helium. As the balloon climbs, the gas expands and the air becomes thinner, the balloon is fully inflated.

Once the mission is over, the radiosonde attached to the weather balloon will parachute back to the ground, according to the National Weather Service. NASA uses a chase plane to help it keep track of science balloons as they descend, according to its website.

The Federal Aviation Administration approves the release of balloons when they are used for authorized purposes. The agency can give a notice to air mission when airspace is restricted around the area where the balloon is going to be deployed. Every time a rocket is sent to space, there is a similar process.

That’s one reason why the objects shot down over the weekend were so concerning: They were found to be flying between 20,000 and 40,000 feet (6,096 and 12,192 meters), according to Kirby, and could have posed a risk to airborne planes.

The research never stopped, even as suborbital sounding rockets offered new ways of getting experiments to the upper atmosphere. That’s because balloons have some unique advantages: they don’t disturb the surrounding environment, they’re very gentle on scientific instruments, and they cost less than rockets.

The priority sensor and electronics pieces identified as well as large sections of the structure were recovered, according to the U.S. Northern Command.

The recovery operation has included the use of a crane to bring up large pieces of the airship, which was kept aloft by a balloon estimated to be up to 200 feet tall.

The story of the Russian spy balloon and other unidentified high-altitude objects shooting down the U.S. in the wake of the February 11 shooting down

The Biden administration was urged not to allow the craft to return to China, and also to allow the U.S. to recover its own data, even before that shootdown.

News of the intrusive Chinese balloon touched off alerts in the U.S. and beyond. When the Pentagon said it had identified a high-altitude balloon over Latin America, China responded by saying it was another research balloon that was badly off-course and therefore not under the control of the country.

The spy balloon that triggered the initial uproar in February has been described as smaller than those objects. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters on Monday that there was no debris yet recovered from those objects.

As for how the U.S. will handle cases of unidentified aerial objects objects in the future, Kirby said on Tuesday that the National Security Council likely will present new guidance by the end of the week.

Questions about the balloon and other objects shot down by the US prompted a classified intelligence presentation for the entire Senate Tuesday morning. The Senate Intelligence Committee will hold a closed hearing on Thursday at 2:30 p.m.

High-Altitude Balloons and Their Use by Science Students, Companies, and Amateur Mechanics. The Case of Conjuring a Missing Report

Other balloon users include science students, companies and amateur enthusiasts. Since 2006 StratoStar in Fishers Indiana has helped students and companies launch over 1,000 high- altitude balloon missions. Student projects have included investigating whether Post-it notes are still sticky after a flight to near-space and the impacts of high-altitude radiation on blood samples.

The US Federal Aviation Administration doesn’t require tracking devices for payloads under 5.4 kg, or for launches or flight paths for such loads to be declared. Large balloons can be used in even small packages. If such objects begin to draw attention, perhaps they should be tracked as well. “I don’t feel like it’s necessary from a safety point of view, but if there’s a legitimate concern about small balloons from other states, we should probably make sure these things are identified,” says Rohde.

Millions of dollars in sensitive equipment were ruined and generals have been put at risk. And despite it all, nations just don’t seem to be able to let go of their balloons.

The love affair with balloons started long before airplanes took flight. The Battle of Fleurus was fought during the early part of the 19th century by the French army. During the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln created the U.S. Army Balloon Corps to surveil the enemy.

A Disappoint: The Case of a Stable Balloon Drifting Over the Union Lines in the 1862 Virginia Siege

When you’re fighting a war, perspective matters, says Tom D. Crouch, an emeritus curator at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. It’s good to get up high to see as much as possible behind the enemy lines in the military, he says.

As long as there have been balloons, the wind has had a say in where they fly. On April 11, 1862, during the siege of Yorktown, Virginia, a balloon carrying a Union general named Fitz John Porter came untethered and began drifting towards the Confederate position. Marksmen had a few shots at the general as he floated over the enemy. “Fortunately, the winds shifted, and they were blown back over the Union lines.”

“You would take special cameras, attach them to high-altitude balloons, set them adrift in Western Europe and let them drift over the Soviet Union,” says Stephen Schwartz, a non-resident senior fellow at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

The goal, Schwartz says, was to fly over the vast Soviet homeland and collect intelligence on nuclear weapons. We were afraid of a surprise attack by the Soviet Union, and any useful information would have helped, he says.

Project Genetrix ended almost as quickly as it began after President Eisenhower decided that the balloon program wasn’t worth the headaches.

“It was essentially a disaster,” Schwartz says. And once again, the wind was to blame: “You had no idea where the balloons were going, so it was just hit or miss as to what you would see.”

Tom’s statement that the balloons weren’t very stealthy is correct. U.S. intelligence “hoped that they could get by without the Soviets noticing,” he says. “That did not happen.”

Air Force tried to solve the problems with more balloons. “They launched them in very large numbers, hoping that a significant number would get through,” Crouch says.

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