The enemy is the wind and spies have been using it for hundreds of years

Peter Bergen: CNN News Editor’s Note: From the Air Force to the Grand Unification — The Hidden Journey of a Secret Mission

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 views expressed in this commentary are his own. More opinions on CNN.

My father was in the US Air Force in the 1950s when he worked on a program to send balloons into Soviet airspace.

In 1954 he was assigned to Headquarters Air Material Command at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio. There he worked on the “Grand Union” project, which deployed balloons that carried cameras over the then-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.

Spy Satellites: A New Look at UFO Sightings and the Beijing Action of the US Defense Ministry after the Decay of the Hainan Balloon

Sources say that after the balloon lifted off from Hainan, China, US officials monitored it as it traveled across the Pacific. After tracking the balloon for a little while, officials believed it would head towards Guam, where it would probably try to surveil military sites on the island.

Now the United States and its rivals have these new-fangled gizmos called “spy satellites,” which can take photos! Full-Motion video is possible. They can take thermal imagery to see whether individuals are moving at night. They can see pretty much anything with a resolution of centimeters.

The cheap satellite imagery that is available can be used to buy your own close-up images of a Russian battle group. This is the model that Maxar Technologies has built their business around and was just bought for $6 billion by a private equity firm.

After the US military shot down the balloon, Beijing took issue with the actions of the US and accused them of violating international practice. The Defense Ministry protested, warning China that it had the right to use necessary means.

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

The report examined more than 500 reports of unidentified objects in the sky over the past two decades, many of them reported by US Navy and US Air Force personnel and pilots. These reports were assessed by the Pentagon’s All-Domain Anomaly Resolution Office, a fancy name for the office that tries to examine UFO sightings.

What the Chinese Government has Learned about High-Altitude Space Missions: Defending China with an Airborne F-35 Spyder

But China has arguably done much worse. The US has been accused of benefiting from the work of hackers, who stole design data for the F-35 fighter aircraft, and from China, which is building its own new generation of fighters. The F-35 theft report was called “baseless” by China.

US officials also detailed what they’ve discovered about the broader spying operation they say the Chinese government has undertaken using a fleet of high-altitude surveillance balloons across the globe.

One official with knowledge of the intelligence said about half a dozen of those flights have been within US airspace.

There are different models of balloons around the globe that are not as similar as the model that was used in the shot down off the coast of South Carolina. The people said that there are more than one variation.

The Washington Post reported that a link was found to the broader program before the new balloon was spotted last week.

The officials want to know as much about the balloon’s technical abilities as possible, including what kind of data it could intercept and gather, what satellites it was linked to and whether the US might be able to exploit it.

It is unclear what intelligence the US has has made officials believe that the balloon’s trajectory may have been accidental. The US intelligence community is scrutinizing the Chinese government’s approval of the balloon’s mission.

China maintains the vessel downed by the US was a weather balloon thrown off course but did offer a rare expression of “regret” over it in a statement Friday.

Multiple intelligence sources and defense officials briefed on the intelligence say that the Chinese explanation isn’t credible and that it 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.

OTD personnel are responsible for building devices used to target national security threats, but also for managing court-authorized data collection and battling attempts by foreign intelligence agencies to penetrate the US.

A member of the House Intelligence Committee said there are a number of reasons they wouldn’t do that. You want to see where it is going and 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.

Administration officials from the Pentagon, State Department and intelligence community briefed lawmakers on Capitol Hill Thursday on the balloon, which has prompted criticism from Republicans over allowing it to float across the US before it was shot down off the Atlantic coast.

The Biden administration has determined that the Chinese balloon was operating with electronic surveillance technology capable of monitoring US communications, according to the official.

Sources familiar with the report said that the order to send a balloon was dispatched without the knowledge of the Chinese President.

Discovery of the Snowmassive Snowflake by the U.S. Navy and the Decline of the Chinese Airborne Nucleus

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 yet seen the load, which is where you would expect to see the largest part 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.

Feb. 14: The US military recovered key sensor from the Chinese balloon that fell. The senators have been told by the U.S. jets that the objects they shot down don’t 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 argued in the briefings that the US didn’t shoot down the balloon earlier because they were worried it could cause a military conflict with China. Biden gave the order to shoot down the balloon whenever the Pentagon felt it was safe to do so, the sources said, so the Pentagon ultimately made the call on when to shoot it down.

The officials tracking the balloon saw no reason to be alarmed. The balloon was supposed to sail over Alaska and continue on a path that intelligence and military officials could follow.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday: ‘When the Chinese Surveillance began to bleed, the Pentagon was taking out a baby’

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 assured them that they were able to alleviate the situation in real-time, said the Illinois Democrat.

“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 correctly? I can’t imagine that would be the case of almost anything we do. Romney said Thursday that he came away more confident.

Senators pushed defense officials at an Appropriations Committee hearing on Thursday over the military’s assessment of the Chinese surveillance, with Democratic Sen. Jon Tester of Montana telling officials that he did not know how they could unequivocally say 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. The chairman of the Senate appropriations defense subcommittee asked what happened next after seeing a long incursion.

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.”


Recovering the Electronics of a Shot Down Chinese Balloon at the South Carolina Coast with the U.S. Naval Assistive Force

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.

Crews using salvage equipment successfully have retrieved important elements of the Chinese balloon that was shot down off the South Carolina coast 10 days ago, the U.S. military says.

The officials are unsure if any of the parts were made in America or somewhere else. The officials said that there was not a determination of what the device was capable of because analysts had yet to look at the bulk of the equipment.

analysts did not find any type of threat to the American public from any sort of bombs or offensive material.

The parts of the balloon that were found were written in English, though they weren’t high tech components, one of the sources familiar with the congressional briefings said. The source said that English writing was found in some parts of the balloon.

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.

China accused the U.S. of flying spy balloons into its airspace over the course of a year without permission.

The State Department official gave an update on some of the details on Thursday, but he spoke with anonymity because he is not authorized to do so.

The main electronics payload, however, has not been recovered yet, one of the FBI officials said, adding that it was “very early” to assess what the intent was and how the device was operating.

The U.S. Airborne Research Space Experiment – “The Greatest Surveillance Empire in History,” Reply to Wang

Wang said the U.S. is the world’s largest surveillance empire. The U.S. National Security Council denies the allegations.

She wouldn’t comment on the equipment on the balloon or the entities that own it. Chinese statements have implied that the balloon was not operated by a government entity, but instead was linked to one or more companies. It has not named them.

The government is also making improvements. The project launched by China was to research material that can be used in balloons that can float higher than the ground.

Senior Trump administration officials including former Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, former Secretary of State and CIA Director Mike Pompeo, as well as ex- national security adviser John Bolton have all said they were not notified that Chinese balloons entered US airspace under the last administration.

“Crews have been able to recover significant debris from the site, including all of the priority sensor and electronics pieces identified as well as large sections of the structure,” U.S. Northern Command said.

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 payload’s size has been categorized by Gen. Glen VanHerck, commander of North American Aerospace Defense Command or NORAD, as “a jet airliner type of size, maybe a regional jet,” weighing more than 2,000 pounds.

The Story of an Intrusive Airborne Launch of a High-Altitude Balloon and the U.S. Approach to Airborne Objects

The balloon blew out of the sky in the U.S., rejecting the explanation that it was an accident.

The analysts advised the Biden administration not to allow the craft to come back to China because they wanted the U.S. to gain its own insights by recovering the equipment.

News of the intrusive Chinese balloon touched off alerts in the U.S. 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 that are smaller than the spy balloon were described by many as being much smaller. 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.

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 that were recently shot down — and the U.S. approach to the airborne objects — prompted a classified intelligence briefing for the entire Senate Tuesday morning. That session will be followed by a closed hearing by the Senate Intelligence Committee, scheduled for 2:30 p.m. ET.

The relationship between the US and China has been damaged by a variety of events over the past few years.

High-Altitude Balloons: Where Are We? Where Have We Come From? What Do We Need to Know? How Did China Come to America?

Feb. 6: China admits another high-altitude balloon, spotted over Latin America, belongs to it and says that airship was also conducting weather research.

The White House spokeswoman says there is no indication of aliens or extraterrestrial activity with the recent takedowns.

From Taipei, Emily Feng reported. Lexie Schapitl reported from Washington, D.C. They contributed to the report from Washington, D.C.

The balloon crossed intoAlaska,Canada and then downward into the US through northern Idaho and may have been caused by strong winds, but US officials do not know if it is deliberate or not.

Blinken and Wang will both attend the Munich Security Conference this weekend. US officials said a meeting between the two is not currently planned but have not fully ruled out the possibility.

He wouldn’t say if he has any specific intelligence that we may have. “Again, we know this is a Chinese balloon and that it has the ability to maneuver, but I’ll just leave it at that.”

If the balloon’s path really was a mistake, then the incident is just the latest in a long line of errant military balloons, which for over two centuries have been blown hither and thither by everything from breezes to gales

Generals have been put at risk, diplomatic relations strained, and millions of dollars of sensitive equipment ruined. And despite it all, nations just don’t seem to be able to let go of their balloons.

Before planes took off, the love affair with balloons began. During the Battle of Fleurus in 1794, the French army operated balloons. Lincoln created the U.S. Army in order to surveil the enemy during the American Civil War.

A High-Altitude Flying Balloon: The Story of Fitz John Porter and the Birth of the U-2 Project Genetrix

When fighting a war perspective is important, says Tom D. Crouch who is a curator at the National Air and Space Museum. “In military terms, it’s always good to be able to get up high to see as much as you can behind the enemy lines,” he says.

But for as long as there have been balloons, the wind has had something to say about where they fly. The Union general Fitz John Porter traveled towards the Confederate position in a balloon during the siege of Yorktown, Virginia in April of 1862. Marksmen took some shots at the general, who was floating over the enemy. “Fortunately, the winds shifted, and they were blown back over the Union lines.”

New, lightweight materials, such as mylar, allowed researchers to build balloons that could travel high into the stratosphere, near the edge of space. That technology, together with electronics and remote cameras meant that uncrewed balloons could potentially drift across enemy territory, providing views that, at the time, were unavailable any other way.

“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.

“They were worried that the Soviets were going to be so good at shooting things down and looking for things that the U-2 program would be compromised,” he says.

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

Tom Crouch says the GeneTRIX balloons weren’t very stealthy. He says the U.S. intelligence was hoping to get by without the attention of the Soviets. “That didn’t happen.”

The Air Force had a few balloons that they tried to solve the problems with. They launched them in large numbers, hoping for a large number to get through.

The selfie was captured a week after the balloon entered US airspace near Alaska, and NORAD sent up fighter jets to make a positive identification, according to defense officials.

For starters, you can look up roughly where the balloon was on the date the military said the photo was taken, Feb. 3. There were several reports of the balloon passing over the Midwest, moving from near Kansas City towards St. Louis.

Once it was over US territory, officials have argued that the benefits of gathering additional intelligence on the balloon far outweighed the risk of shooting it down over land.

A Place to See the U-2 Spyplane and The Mississippi River: Hints of High-Altitude Clouds and a Supermassive Balloon

The U-2 is a single-seat, high-altitude reconnaissance and surveillance aircraft with “glider-like characteristics,” according to the Air Force. Because the planes are regularly flown over 70,000 feet, pilots have to wear a pressure suit similar to the ones worn by astronauts.

It’s actually not an impossible task, and I laid my process in a Twitter thread earlier today (Another Twitter user reached the same conclusion several hours earlier).

Next, check for landmarks in the photo. There’s a river on the horizon along with high altitude clouds. A quick review of publicly available satellite data revealed there was a front of clouds along the Mississippi River that day.

The Mississippi River is a good choice, but where is it? To figure that out, it helps to enhance the photo and look for distinctive landmarks. There is a Y shaped channel in the center of the picture. Next to a dam is the channel.

Once you have two points, you can draw a line through them using mapping software. Then follow it, and sure enough, it’s possible to find the small town of Bellflower and the position of the spy balloon and the plane in the photo. It’s all a little approximate and doesn’t line up perfectly, but good enough.

There are other co0l tidbits that we can tell from looking at the photo. The U-2 spy plane has a service altitude of around 70,000 feet. The balloon is flying around 60,000 feet in altitude, as was claimed by the Pentagon, since the plane is looking down on it.

Chis Combs points out that the spy plane’s shadow can be used to get a better sense of the balloon’s size.

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