Tom Bergen and the Launch of the Spy Balloons Over the Soviet Union (The Cost of Chaos: The Trump Administration and the World)
Peter Bergen is a professor at Arizona State University and a vice president at New America. Bergen is the author of “The Cost of Chaos: The Trump Administration and the World.” The views expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion on CNN.
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. He worked on the project that used balloons to place cameras over the Soviet Union. Turkey launched the spy balloons.
The program that my dad worked on was kept secret and has not been discussed recently as it was seven decades ago.
The Inconsistency of the Balloon-Ballistic Approach to China’s Security Crisis: Can It Really Be Explained?
Lawmakers have expressed outrage at China over the balloon — and also at the Biden administration for not shooting it down sooner. U.S. officials have said that the balloon’s limited abilities and the lack of an immediate threat, especially compared to the potential for danger to people or objects on the ground, factored into the decision to wait to take down the balloon.
The United States and its rivals have gizmos called spy satellites that are capable of taking photos. They can do full-motion video! They can take thermal imagery that detects individuals moving around at night! When the skies are clear, they can spy on pretty much anything, with a resolution of centimeters.
Satellite imagery is now so cheap that you can get your own close-up pictures of a Russian battle group, for example. Just ask Maxar Technologies; they have built up a rather profitable business on this model, which was just acquired two months ago for $6 billion by a private equity firm.
The overflight of US territory by China’s balloon, which former President Donald Trump has implied is a national security catastrophe, is actually not.
It may help to explain an element of a report published last month by the US Office of Director of National Intelligence.
In the wake of the balloon’s long incursion into US airspace, the Pentagon adjusted how it uses radar to look for similar activities.
F-22 fighters shot down by the US military and the F-35 hijacking attempt on a U.S. Airborne F-22
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.
According to the White House statement, President Biden authorized US fighter aircraft assigned to NORAD to conduct an operation and a US F-22 shot down an object in Canadian territory. “The leaders discussed the importance of recovering the object in order to determine more details on its purpose or origin.”
Aviation Week said on Thursday that the balloon could be one of three unidentified objects shot down by the US military.
The objects were not as large as the PRC balloon and we will not be able to determine their size until we are able to recover the debris, said a National Security Council spokesman.
Two F-22 fighters were dispatched to track the mysterious object over Alaska. When it crossed the international border into Canada, aircraft from the Royal Canadian Air Force joined the formation. President Biden made calls to Canada’s Prime Minister,Justin Trudeau, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, and the Canadian defense minister.
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.
While Canadian authorities conduct recovery operations, the FBI is working closely with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
What the Pentagon is saying on Capitol Hill: Searching for Unknowns in the Shooting of a Supermassive Black Hole
Some pilots said it interfered with their sensor, but other pilots said they didn’t experience that, according to a source briefed on intelligence.
It did, however, pose a risk to people and property on the ground if it were to be shot down, as officials said it was roughly 200 feet tall and the payload weighed more than a couple of thousand pounds.
The balloon is on the ocean floor, and a military is trying to recover it. Over the last few days, they’ve found a significant amount of debris that will be helpful to our understanding of this balloon and its capabilities.
The object that was shot down over Lake Huron in Michigan descended slowly into the water after impact, according to defense officials.
The Pentagon has not sent an official memo to Capitol Hill but they are still sending correspondence to the relevant committees, according to a defense official.
Figuring out why the Biden administration shot down three unknown objects in three days is something that lawmakers on Capitol Hill want to know more about.
The congressional aides told CNN that the shots were felt on the surface like an overcorrection to the Chinese spy balloon incident.
“What’s happening now is we’re actually looking for these with extra vigilance. We look for them in many different ways. We’re starting to see them in different ways,” Colorado Democratic Rep. Jason Crow said on “CNN This Morning” on Monday.
Most of the things we were looking for didn’t look like balloons. We are looking for them. Himes said that they were probably finding more stuff.
Investigating the Detection of Unidentified High-Altitude Objects with the NORTHCOM and NORAD Counterparts
A spokesman for majority leader Chuck Schumer said that the Senate is holding a classified meeting on the shot down objects on Tuesday.
The White House on Monday denied that President Joe Biden’s recent swift actions to take down high-altitude objects identified hovering over American airspace were the result of political pressure, following earlier critiques that he waited too long to make the call to shoot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon.
“These were decisions based purely and simply on what was in the best interest of the American people,” National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications John Kirby said Monday.
A defense official said the radar was adjusted after a balloon was spotted. “We continue to refine detection settings, and that won’t stop just because we have identified these smaller objects,” the official said.
A White House office of legislative affairs memo sent to Capitol Hill and obtained by CNN said that efforts were underway “to find what is left of these objects” to better understand them.
A US official told CNN over the weekend there has been caution inside the administration on the pilot descriptions of the unidentified objects due to the circumstances in which the objects were viewed.
According to the Pentagon memo, there isn’t any more information on the object at this time, including its purpose, origin, or scope of capabilities.
The US and Canadians were attempting to identify the debris that was left after an object was shot down in Canada. Canadian officials are leading that investigation, though the FBI was embedded with them, according to the memo.
Three people told CNN that the first missile launched by the F-16 jet did not hit the target.
The Pentagon and White House had not previously disclosed that the first missile did not strike the target, but NORTHCOM and NORAD Commander Gen. Glen VanHerck told reporters on Sunday that acquiring and targeting the object was difficult because of its small size.
The pilots opted to use short-range AIM-9X Sidewinders, which are capable of seeing the heat contrast between an object and the surrounding area. The first missile was unable to hit its target. What happened to the missile has not been determined.
The Recovery of High-Altitude Debris from Spy Balloon Devices, as Revealed by Senator Mitt Romney
“The intelligence community’s considering as a leading explanation that these could just be balloons tied to some commercial or benign purpose,” John Kirby, the strategic communication coordinator at the National Security Council, said Tuesday.
After hearing from administration officials that the objects were not a threat to the American people, the senators were reassured.
“There are a lot of these things that are up in the air from time to time, some commercial, some government and maybe there’s some things we don’t know,” said Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, adding he wasn’t worried “in the slightest” that the objects themselves pose a threat to the American people.
Having the investigators look at the debris would be of immense value in terms of how we could positively identify what the objects were, and what their purpose was. So we’re going to continue those intensive recovery efforts because they’re important,” Kirby said.
So far, those efforts have been hampered by what he described as “pretty tough conditions,” exacerbated by the geographic challenges on Lake Huron, in the Yukon wilderness and on sea ice north of Alaska.
Kirby pointed out that the Chinese spy balloon debris recovery off the coast of South Carolina was hampered by high seas in the Atlantic Ocean due to the time of year.
Kirby said the government relied on the FAA and intelligence community to get the information about the mysterious airborne devices.
An administration official said that the government is leaning on the US intelligence community to assess the objects. Observations by American military pilots and the flight patterns before they were shot down are some of the information being studied, the official said.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday the search area in Yukon was a “fairly large area” in dense wilderness. Other Canadian officials were candid Monday about the difficult task of recovering debris from high-altitude objects shot down over Canada and the US.
“We are working very hard to locate them, but there’s no guarantee that we will. The terrain of the Whitehorse area is very difficult right now, so it will be a challenge for our recovery efforts, and the marine conditions are not good at the moment.
The White House should not have shot down any alien spaceships, according to the briefings on the September 11 terrorist attack in the United States
One of the unanswered questions that came out of the briefings was about whether the US military had shot down any alien spaceships. The statement from the White House’s press secretary was as definitive as can be.
There is no indication of aliens or activity by alien beings with the recent take-downs, she said. “Wanted to make sure that the American people knew that, all of you knew that. And it was important for us to say that from here because we’ve been hearing a lot about it.”
The recent events were ripe for conspiracy theories as officials were particularly sensitive to the mysterious nature of the airborne objects.
One official conceded that there was a risk of a conspiracy because no one had information to back it up.
It was decided that if there was no concrete information shared about the downed objects then it would be best to rule out the possibility of extraterrestrial activity as soon as possible.
Administration officials still say they aim to provide as much information as possible, but they note that the circumstance isn’t ideal for effective communication.
According to officials, Biden wants to be as transparent as possible with both Congress and the American public, but the president acknowledges that he can’t communicate on items without a full picture of what they are.
The situation is ripe for conspiracy theories and it’s wise for Biden to address the public, according to a lawmaker who sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena During the Balloonmania: The United States, China, and the Response to the Obama Administration
Researchers say it’s the latter, and they note that even before the balloon mania began, the US government tracked many UFOs in its airspace, including a number of balloons. The US Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) released a January report, for example, tracking incidents involving UFOs, which the US government calls Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena or UAPs. Between March 5, 2021. and August 30, 2022, there were over 200 reports of UAPs by the All-Domain Anomaly Resolution Office. In a wider pool of 366 UAP reports that also includes newly discovered incidents that occurred before 2021, ODNI said that 163 were balloons “or balloon-like entities,” 26 were “Unmanned Aircraft Systems,” or drones, and six were “attributed to clutter.” Not all unidentified balloons are spy balloons.
“This isn’t new; we just hadn’t been detecting them in the past,” says Brynn Tannehill, a RAND Corporation senior technical analyst and a former naval aviator. I believe that the filters on US systems had been ignoring things that were too slow, high or small to be considered threats. We’re already seeing more of what was already there for the past few years, now that the parameters have been adjusted.
The US military says that crews have recovered some elements of the Chinese balloon that was shot down in the ocean 10 days ago.
The recovery operation included the use of a crane to bring up pieces of the airship, which was maintained by a balloon that was 200 feet tall.
The NORAD commander thinks the payload is a type of jet airliner and weigh 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.
Even before that shootdown, analysts urged the Biden administration not to allow the craft to return to China — both to limit the data it might convey, and to allow the U.S. to gain its own insights by recovering the equipment.
The balloon incident quickly became an imposing challenge to smoothing out snarled U.S.-Chinese relations. The news prompted Secretary of State Antony Blinken to call off a high-profile trip to Beijing just hours before he was set to depart.
A New Look at Unidentified Aircraft Objects in the U.S. with the NIBBB Club of Amateur Balloonists
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.
According to Emily, China accused the US of having “flew spy balloons into its airspace” more than 10 times during the last two years.
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 group of balloon enthusiasts notes in a post that their last transmission occurred near a small island off the west coast of Alaska, and they have not blamed the US government for that.
The PICO Balloon K9YO last came out at 00:48 on February 11 to report on 123 days and 18 hours of flight.
North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) deferred questions to the National Security Council for identification of the objects and had no additional information, according to a spokeswoman for US Northern Command and NORAD.
“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.
“Six ended up in trees (we found a fix for that). Six balloons never said hello (we think we have a fix for that). There were balloons in the United States. We had nine balloons that left the United States. We had three balloons that almost made it around the world. We have two balloons flying around the world,” the group said on its website.
Do US Air Force Pilots Know What They’re Trying to Say About a Blast-Shot Unidentified Object in the Yukon?
The public won’t get a thorough explanation of what objects were shot down by US fighter pilots because of failed search efforts.
National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications John Kirby suggested as much at a White House press briefing on Friday, telling reporters, “We would like nothing better, but I can’t sit here and promise you that we’ll get to that level of fidelity of detail.”
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Kirby said, have been unable to find the object downed in the Yukon territory and the Canadians have decided not to look for the object that fell into Lake Huron.
“So pretty tough conditions, going to be very difficult to find them, let alone once you find that debris be able to do the forensics to identify it. So I can’t promise you that we’ll know definitively one way or the other,” he added.
The US will be crafting parameters in relation to how they handle unknown objects in US airspace that could pose a risk to civilian aircraft, Biden said.
In the days since, speculation has grown over the possibility that the U.S. Air Force shot down the 32-inch silver Mylar balloon. On Friday, the NIBBB posted a statement saying there is presently no connection between its balloon and the unidentified object shot down by the F-22 last weekend.
Federal law requires most large flying objects to be registered with the Federal Aviation Administration. Small and light are the characteristics of amateur pico balloons, like K9YO-15, that are not subject to those requirements. It has a radio transmitter registered with the FCC.
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The Biden administration cannot confirm the reports about objects being shot down because of ongoing investigations, it said on Friday.
Officials haven’t yet explained the origin or purpose of the object. But an intriguing theory quickly emerged in the community of hobbyist balloon enthusiasts: that a high-altitude “pico” balloon, similar to a Mylar party balloon, was shot out of the sky.
The amateurs were watching the K9YO-15 balloon as it went towards Alaska before it was shot down.
A 12 years ago, he helped to research and design small balloons like the one used by the Illinois club and now uses a website to follow K9YO-15. The tool predicts the likely path of a balloon.
We really hoped it wouldn’t be intercepted when the predictions showed that K9YO-15 was heading to Alaska. But we knew the moment that the intercept was reported, whose it was and which one it was.”
A spokesperson for NORAD, the joint U.S.-Canadian military organization, told NPR on Friday that from their understanding, the FBI has spoken with the balloon hobby club.
Representatives from the FBI and NORAD told NPR on Friday that they have no new information to provide, with the FBI saying that “the overall recovery operation is ongoing.”
The Bottlecap Balloon Club Mission K9YO-15. Is the balloon really a fish bladder, a submarine or a bottle cap?
K9YO-15 was launched last fall by members of the Bottlecap Balloon club — the group takes its name from the Pixar movie Up, which prominently features both balloons and a bottle cap.
Its journey began with a launch in Illinois. Before it disappeared, it was one of the club’s longest-flying balloons; in its 123 days aloft, it had circumnavigated the Earth nearly seven times.
The balloons begin to expand as they climb until the Mylar envelope begins to pressurize. The air density is equivalent to the balloon’s density, which is what stops them from rising at altitudes. “The balloon is the same shape as a fish bladder or a submarine and floats like that inside the water,” he said.
One thing that might make a pico balloon hard to shoot down, Bowen said, is its small size. “The entire thing that the balloon lifts is a business card-sized circuit board and two little tissue paper-thin solar cells,” he said.
The balloons are pressurized just below the point of popping. If you hit them with turbulence, they’ll pop. If they get hit with a sonic boom from nearby, absolutely going to pop. Those are the easiest ways to pop them.”
It is possible that the balloon requires solar power. During the winter months, the tiny solar panels that make up the balloon’s lightweight systems can struggle to get enough sunlight.
The balloon was equipped with a GPS module, a transmitter, a tiny computer and a small solar panel package. The total weight of the mission was around half an ounce, according to the launch post.
Balloon enthusiasts say they’re happy to see so much interest in their hobby. Even if the U.S. and other countries adopts new rules, they’re hoping to keep pursuing it.
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“These are often launched by schoolchildren,” Bowen said. The children love the ability to see their little robot creature wandering the planet, and the amateurs who have figured this out went to schools to get them excited about science and engineering.