There is a long, strange history of spy balloons

The Cost of Chaos: The Washington Dilated? Comment on Bergen’s comment on a CNN analyst in Washington, D.C.

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

It reminded me of when my dad was in the US Air Force working on a program to send balloons into Soviet airspace.

He was assigned to Headquarters Air Material Command, located at Wright-Patterson, in the 50’s. He worked on a project that put balloons in the air over the Soviet Union. Those spy balloons were launched from Turkey.

My dad didn’t talk about this part of his career much, likely because the work was secret, but the program has long since been declassified since it happened around seven decades ago.


Spyballoon-History Bergen: When the Trump Balloon Overflyed State Was Not a National Security Disaster

The three balloons from China were in American air space during the Trump administration, but not as much as they should have been.

Now the United States and its rivals have these new-fangled gizmos called “spy satellites,” which can take photos! They can do a full-motion video. They can take thermal imagery that detects individuals moving around at night! They can spy on just about anything with a resolution of centimeters when the skies are clear.

Indeed, commercial satellite imagery is now getting so inexpensive that you can go out and buy your own close-up images of, say, a Russian battle group in Ukraine. Maxar Technologies was recently acquired by a private equity firm for $6 billion and they have built up a profitable business on this model.

The overflight of US territory by China’s balloon isn’t a national security catastrophe as a lot of Republican politicians have implied.

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

The report looked at more than 500 reports of unexplained objects in the sky, many of which were reported by Navy and Air Force personnel. These reports were assessed by the office that tries to investigate unexplained phenomena, known as the All-Domain Anomaly Resolution Office.


Pitfall of an F-35 Fighter: An Illinois-Based Club of Amateur Balloons, Last Reporting an Unidentified Object Over Alaska

But China has arguably done much worse. The US accused China of benefiting from the work of hackers who stole design data about the F-35 fighter aircraft as they built their own new generation of fighters, and of sucking up much of the personal information of more than 20 million Americans when they were in the US government. China called the F-35 theft report “baseless” and denied responsibility for the OPM hacking.

An Illinois-based club of amateur balloonists says one of its small balloons is “missing in action” after last reporting its location over Alaska on Saturday, the same day the US military shot down an unidentified object in the same region.

The NIBBB has not blamed the US government for taking out one of their balloons, but it does say that they last communicated near a small island off the west coast of Alaska.

“Pico Balloon K9YO last reported on February 11th at 00:48 zulu near Hagemeister Island after 123 days and 18 hours of flight,” the NIBBB blog post, dated February 14, states.

The NORAD deferred questions for identification to the National Security Council, which had no additional information, according to the spokeswoman.

President Joe Biden delivered his first public remarks on the topic, and acknowledged that the intelligence community believed the objects were most likely balloons tied to private companies, recreation or research institutions.

“We send a small transmitter, with GPS tracking and antenna on a balloon filled with Hydrogen, rising to 47,000 feet, and travelling with the speed of the Jetstream,” the NIBBB website explains.

We found a fix for the six that ended up in trees. We have a fix for that, because six balloons never said hello. There were eight balloons that traveled the US. We had nine balloons that left the United States. We had a few balloons that were close to making it all the way around the world. The group said on its website they have two balloons flying around the world.

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