The Story of an Overflight of US Ground by China: The Case of the 2016 Subic Bay, South China Sea, Naval Base, And Its Controversy
Editor’s Note: Beth Sanner is a former deputy director of National Intelligence for Mission Integration, a position where she oversaw the elements that coordinate and lead collection, analysis, and program oversight throughout the Intelligence Community. She was also the president’s intelligence briefer. She is a professor-of-practice at the Applied Research Lab for Intelligence and Security at the University of Maryland and a CNN national security analyst. Her opinions are not included in this commentary. CNN has more opinions on it.
Washington believes the balloon shot down over the Atlantic on Saturday is a part of an extensive Chinese scrutineers program, but that the most powerful leader in decades may not have been aware of the mission.
The Chinese captured the underwater vehicle of the US Navy in late 2016 in the South China Sea, just 50 nautical miles from Subic Bay in the Philippines and hundreds of miles from China. (Subic Bay was home to the largest US naval base in Asia until disagreements over leasing costs led to a withdrawal in 1992; ironically, US sailors might soon return to the base following Manila’s recent decision to allow a greater, albeit rotational, US military presence in the Philippines as a counter to Chinese aggression.) The incident was seen as a message to the President-elect two weeks before his inauguration and several weeks after he angered Beijing by taking a message from Taiwan’s president. Beijing agreed to return the craft three days later, but never apologized or accused the US of espionage.
The most memorable example of this is the presidency of George W. Bush. Two Chinese fighter jets harassed a US Navy plane in 2001 over international waters. One collided with the EP-3 and crashed. There was an unauthorized emergency landing by the pilot on China’s Hainan Island after he regained control of his plane. Some of the 24 US crew members were held for 11 days before US officials were able to negotiate their release.
Had any damage or loss of life resulted when China downed the unmanned US craft, Chinese authorities would have quickly placed both blame and liability on the US. There would have been protests in front of the US Embassy and China’s Ambassador to the US.
Some Republican politicians have implied that the overflight of US ground by a balloon from China is a national security catastrophe.
As the Brookings Institution’s China expert, Ryan Hass, recently put it during an interview on the German Marshall Fund’s “China Global” podcast,”‘establishing guardrails’ is neither strategy nor policy… and is lacking in ambition.” Clear boundaries need to be set with China; this is an opportunity for the Biden administration to work with Congress to articulate and implement a clear strategic framework to advance our broader global interests, including boosting current efforts to explain the Chinese threat to a skeptical global South. A Chinese balloon traversing Costa Rica has a strong optical function.
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 a book about the Trump administration. The views expressed in this commentary are of his own. CNN has more opinion 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.
In 1954 he was assigned to Headquarters Air Material Command at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio. The “Grand Union” project deployed balloons that carried cameras over the Soviet Union. Turkey launched the spy balloons.
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.
How China is leaking information about a Pentagon hacking investigation: spy balloons and high-altitude balloons have been detected by the United States Air Force
Spy balloons do offer some advantages over satellites; they are relatively inexpensive and can be more maneuverable. It is good for the US military to continue to look for strange objects that may be Chinese drones or balloons.
Now the United States and its rivals have these new-fangled gizmos called “spy satellites,” which can take photos! They can do full-motion video! They can take thermal imagery that detects individuals moving around at night! They can observe a lot 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. It was two months ago that Maxar Technologies was purchased for $6 billion by a private equity firm, but they had built up a profit on this model.
But it may help explain, at least in part, an element of a little-noticed report published by the US Office of Director of National Intelligence last month.
Three objects were brought down by the U.S. forces. The American officials have not given any information about the objects they received.
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.
Officials tell CNN that part of the program is run out of the small Chinese province of Hainan. Sources told CNN that the Chinese program conducted at least two dozen missions over five continents over the past few years, but the US doesn’t know the exact amount of balloons.
Half a dozen of those flights have been within the US airspace, according to one official familiar with the intelligence.
There have been some balloons like the one found above Montana in recent years above Japan, India and Taiwan. China admitted a high-altitude balloon found above Latin America this month was its own, though it said the balloon was a civilian airship doing weather research.
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.
It isn’t certain how much intelligence the community will be able to get about how much information the balloon collected, or was trying to collect, but it will depend on how damaged the balloon is by the initial shoot down.
The US gleaned important clues to some questions when the balloon was over the United States, defense officials say.
The biggest unanswered question, officials say, remains China’s intent. China maintains that the vessel was a weather balloon drifting off-course, and that it was an accident. Officials have acknowledged that this type of balloon has only limited steering capabilities and largely rode the jet stream.
So far, China has offered slim information to fill out its own version of events – maintaining the balloon was a Chinese civilian research airship blown off course and flatly denying a broader surveillance program.
The PLA Air Force: Where the US is, Where the enemy is : Where do we stand, where are we going? Where are we heading? What do we need to do?
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.
OTD personnel, for example, construct surveillance devices used by FBI and intelligence community personnel targeting national security threats — but they also are responsible for managing court-authorized data collection and work to defeat efforts by foreign intelligence agencies to penetrate the US.
There are a number of reasons why we would not do that, according to one member of the House Intelligence Committee. We want to collect off it so that we can see what it is doing.
A defense official said the US has procedures – akin to a kind of digital blackout – to protect sensitive locations from overhead surveillance, typically used for satellite overflight.
Military experts have listed “near space” as a crucial link in integration as the PLA Air Force was urged to speed up air and space integration.
Lying above the flightpaths of most commercial and military jets and below satellites, near space is an in-between area for spaceflight to pass through – but it is also a domain where hypersonic weapons transit and ballistic missiles cross.
The High-Energy Washington Post Dispatch About Wu Zhe, a Chinese Scientist Who Shot Down a Super Bowl Balloon
Earlier this week The New York Times published a story about Wu Zhe, a Chinese scientist who is the alleged mastermind of his nation’s balloon surveillance program. You may have noticed that Chinese spy balloons have been in the news because one of those near-space visitors meandered over the US for days until Joe Biden ordered it shot down. The Eagles Men Aviation Science and Technology Group was chronicled by the Times reporters. The team that just lost the Super Bowl is not related to that.
“With the rapid development of modern technology, the space for information confrontation is no longer limited to land, sea, and the low altitude. ThePLA Daily, the official newspaper of thePLA, stated in an article published in the summer of last year that near space has become a new battlefield in modern warfare.
The article was written by the executive editor of a military magazine, which is published by a PLA-linked company.
“They are cheap, provide long-term persistent stare for collection of imagery, communications and other information – including weather,” said Mulvaney, who authored a 2020 paper that detailed China’s interest in using lighter-than-air vehicles for “near-space reconnaissance.”
Chinese military researchers have said that airships could be a potential alternative to satellites, including if satellites are knocked out in war. Last year, China experimented with using rockets to send balloons up to 25 miles above earth.
The US has also been bolstering its capacity to use lighter-than-air vehicles. In 2021, the US Department of Defense contracted an American aerospace firm to work on using their stratospheric balloons as a means “to develop a more complete operating picture and apply effects to the battlefield,” according to a statement from the firm, Raven Aerostar, at the time.
The documentary did not provide further detail about the time and location of the incident, but a paper published last April by researchers in a PLA institute noted air-drift balloons were spotted over China in 1997 and 2017.
Atmospheric conditions in the Downed Balloon: a joint intelligence program for ballistic missile and hypersonic missiles
“Understanding the atmospheric conditions up there is critical to programming the guidance software” for ballistic and hypersonic missiles, according to Hawaii-based analyst Carl Schuster, a former director of operations at the US Pacific Command’s Joint Intelligence Center.
Taiwan and Japan have both seen similar incidents in the past but it is not clear if they are related to the US incident.
Mulvaney said that if the balloon was described as a dual use or state-owned, the data collected would be sent back to China.
“At the end of the day responses and (tactics, techniques, and procedures) from the US and other countries on how they react, or fail to – all of that has value to China and the PLA.”
Administration officials from the Pentagon, State Department and intelligence community briefed lawmakers on Capitol Hill Thursday on the balloon which was shot down off the Atlantic coast after being criticized for allowing it to float across the US.
An official from the Biden administration says that the balloon was capable of monitoring US communications.
Lawmakers were told Thursday that the order to send the balloon was dispatched without Chinese President Xi Jinping’s knowledge, sources familiar with the briefing said.
Only evidence that was on the surface of the ocean has been delivered to FBI analysts so far, one official said, which includes the “canopy itself, the wiring, and then a very small amount of electronics.” According to the official, analysts have not seen the load, which is where you would expect to see most of the 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.
Feb. 14: The U.S. military says it has recovered key sensors from the downed Chinese balloon. Senators receive a classified briefing on the unidentified objects, with members of both parties leaving the briefing saying they are assured that the spate of unidentified floating objects shot down by U.S. jets in recent days do not pose an immediate threat to Americans. But some urge Biden administration officials to share more information with the public after a classified briefing.
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.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene: “What does the Pentagon tell us?” Sen. Mitt Romney, a Democratic Senator, says she is disappointed by the Pentagon
The House briefing Thursday morning was tense, the sources said, with several Republicans railing against the administration, including GOP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, who said that the Pentagon made the president – whom she noted she doesn’t like – look 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. Their capabilities are very impressive. Was everything done correctly? I can’t imagine that would be the case of almost anything we do. Romney said that he came away with more confidence.
The military assessment of the Chinese surveillance was a hot topic at the Appropriations Committee hearing, with senators pushing officials to reveal how they said that it was not a military threat.
“You guys have to help me understand why this baby wasn’t taken out long before and because I am telling you that that this ain’t the last time. We’ve [seen] brief incursions, now we’ve seen a long incursion, what happens next?,” said Tester, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee.
The Pentagon is worried about the Xi-US collider mission over Alaska, but is afraid of what it might tell us if it does
At the hearing, Pentagon officials said that the Defense Department was not concerned about the ballooning of intelligence over Alaska, as it was not close to sensitive sites.
The military says the parts of the Chinese balloon that was shot down 10 days ago have been recovered.
It’s not yet clear where the balloon’s parts were manufactured, the officials said, including whether any of the pieces were made in America. The officials said that there was not a determination as to what the device was capable of doing or its intent, because analysts have not looked at the majority of the equipment on the balloon.
The analysts have not found any bomb-making materials that would pose a danger to the Americans.
One of the sources familiar with the congressional briefings said that English was written on some parts of the balloon but it was not high tech. The source declined to provide detail on what specific parts of the balloon contained English writing.
The alternative in this scenario – that Xi was aware that a balloon was being dispatched over the United States ahead of a visit from US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to Beijing – would raise a separate set of concerns about China’s decision-making in relation to the US.
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.”
“As we saw with the second balloon over Central and South America that they just acknowledged, they also have no explanation for why they violated the airspace of Central and South American countries,” the official said. “The PRC’s program will only continue to be exposed, making it harder for the PRC to use this program.”
The assessment was communicated to American lawmakers in briefings Thursday, according to CNN reporting – and if true, could point to what analysts say would be a significant lack of coordination within the Chinese system at a fraught period of 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.
In a statement last weekend, Beijing said that the device was for companies and that it didn’t mean that the government or military were involved.
Thompson is a senior research fellow at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, and he says there’s a problem with the centralization of power.
That means that lower-level officials who may have the capacity to more closely monitor such missions may not be empowered to do so, or not be equipped to make political judgments about their impact, he said. Communications could be complicated by power struggles between lower and higher ranking officials.
“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 feared repercussions, or were accustomed to a system where information flows 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.
It is possible that entities launching balloons were not pushed back by the United States or other countries and instead had routine launches based on weather conditions and at modest costs.
“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.
The Biden officials thought that the Chinese leadership had not heard of the balloon mission, as well as the fact that China is still trying to figure out what happened, a source told Congress.
“Because of his personality, he wants 100% (control),” said Alfred Wu, an associate professor, also at the NUS Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. I don’t think it’s possible for the president to allow for that.
Instead, the incident that diverted attention to a faltering economy after years under the recently dismantled zero- Covid policy may have been the reason for the postponement of the talks.
The Defense and Intelligence of the U.S. Airborne Surface Objects Surveilance Empire. III. Recovery of the Airship Over Latin America
All of the priority sensor and electronics pieces identified as well as large sections of the structure were recovered from the site, 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 NORAD commander has labeled the payload as being a jet airliner type of size, weighing more than 2,000 pounds.
The U.S. has dismissed that explanation emphatically — most notably by blowing the balloon out of the sky on Feb. 4, after it had soared over much of the continental U.S.
Before that shootdown, analysts urged the Biden administration not to allow the craft to return to China as they wanted to allow the U.S. to get its own insights by recovering the equipment.
The news of the Chinese balloon touched off alert in the US and beyond. When the Pentagon said last week that a similar high-altitude balloon had been identified over Latin America, China responded by saying it was another research balloon that was badly off-course, deeming it “an unexpected, isolated incident caused by force majeure,” meaning events beyond the country’s control.
The objects are smaller than the spy balloon that triggered the initial uproar. Speaking to reporters on Monday, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said that while recovery operations for those objects were ongoing, but no debris had been recovered yet.
Kirby said on Tuesday that the National Security Council likely will give a new guidance on how the US will handle unidentified aerial objects objects in the future.
The intelligence briefing for the Senate was prompted by questions about the recent shot down of a balloon and airborne objects. The Senate Intelligence Committee has scheduled a closed hearing for 2:30 pm.
Wang says that the U.S. is the ” world’s largest surveilance empire.” The U.S. National Security Council denied the allegations.
The balloon’s appearance prompted the US to shoot down other unidentified objects in the sky and sparked a fresh wave of criticism in Washington, which accused President Joe Biden of not acting quickly enough or providing enough transparency.
China admits that a high-altitude balloon spotted over Latin America is itss and that it is also doing weather research.
Feb. 9: The U.S. briefs diplomats from 40 countries about the Chinese balloon it shot down. On Capitol Hill, both chambers of Congress get briefings on the incident. The House approved a unanimous resolution condemning China’s alleged surveillance of the United States.
The White House has reassured Americans there is no indication of alien activity, according to the Press Secretary.
Finding Our Seams and Where the enemy resides within Our Sews: A U.S. Approach to Near-Space Programs in China
Emily Feng reported from Taipei. Lexie Schapitl reported from Washington, D.C. Vincent Ni and Padmananda Rama contributed to this report from Washington, D.C.
A part of the Chinese military called the Strategic Support Force most likely oversees near-space programs, said John K. Culver, a former U.S. intelligence analyst on China. It reports directly to the Central Military Commission, whose chairman is Xi Jinping, China’s leader, and is equal to other branches of the military. The agency is responsible for space programs, intelligence collection of electronic communications and cyberoperations.
But while Chinese military officials speak anxiously of American expansion into near space, the U.S. government has in reality not paid much attention to that zone, according to current and former U.S. officials. That is partly because the military and intelligence agencies have used space-related budgets to deploy assets into far-flung outer space — for example, the many U.S. government surveillance satellites that circle the globe.
We know how to detect them, how to track them, and how to kill them. We just weren’t looking for them,” said Adm. William E. Gortney, a retired commander of the U.S. Northern Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, and a former Navy FA-18 fighter pilot. “This goes to finding our seams and where the enemy resides within those seams.”
Measuring and navigating the world with a stratospheric balloon: Mike Cassidy, Internet access to underserved regions
When Mike Cassidy read the story, he just about busted a gut. Before he left Alphabet in 2017, he was in charge of a project called Loon, which aimed to provide internet access to underserved regions via stratospheric balloons. Loon began inside the company’s X “moonshot” lab and later “graduated” to become a separate unit.
At the time it was first announced, Loon exceeded every single milestone that was supposedly being bragged about. Altitude? Using specially fabricated materials for its skin, Loon had no problem sustaining heights above 60,000 feet. Is it possible to circumcise the globe? Cassidy says “At least one of our balloons went around the world 14 times,” contributing to a total of over 40 million kilometers in the air. Networking three balloons? “At one point we had several dozen in the air at the same time,” Cassidy says. All of them are connected. The real-time government weather data and Artificial Intelligence-powered predictions of wind currents made the Loon balloons even more impressive. The data provided by the balloons was enough to change altitude to find a favorable wind direction. The software was controlled by a staffer and 888-282-0465 888-282-0465 888-282-0465 888-282-0465 888-282-0465 888-282-0465.