All eyes have turned toward the skies above the northern United States in search of a suspected Chinese spy balloon that has been loitering in U.S. airspace for several days.
Now comes word that President Joe Biden gave an order for the intruding aircraft to not be shot down but instead to simply be monitored by the U.S. military, Breitbart reported.
The reason given for the decision to not shoot down the suspected Chinese spy balloon is a concern about the possibility that falling debris could cause damage to private property and injury or death to any civilians unlucky enough to be within the debris field.
Biden given option to shoot down balloon
According to NBC News, the suspected Chinese spy balloon was first spotted several days ago as it traveled high above the Aleutian Islands of Alaska and has been tracked as it continued across part of Canada before being spotted above Montana on Wednesday.
It was on Wednesday that senior military leaders held a high-level meeting about the balloon to determine the level of threat it posed and to devise possible options for a response and recommendations for action, including shooting it down, that was then presented to President Biden for a final decision.
Given that it was determined by the military that the suspected Chinese craft posed a minimal threat, and in conjunction with the stated concern about damage caused by falling debris, there was a “strong recommendation” that the balloon simply be monitored and tracked instead of shot down, which the president reportedly accepted over the other possible options.
Military briefs media on “high-altitude surveillance balloon”
During a Defense Department briefing on Thursday, Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Pay Ryder told reporters in a statement, “The United States government has detected and is tracking a high-altitude surveillance balloon that is over the continental United States right now. The U.S. government, to include NORAD, continues to track and monitor it closely.”
“The balloon is currently traveling at an altitude well above commercial air traffic, and does not present a military or physical threat to people on the ground,” he added. “Instances of this kind of balloon activity have been observed previously over the past several years. Once the balloon was detected, the U.S. government acted immediately to protect against the collection of sensitive information.”
The remainder of the briefing was then on background, with the information provided attributable only to an unnamed “senior Defense official,” who expressed confidence that the “high-altitude surveillance balloon” belonged to China and confirmed that President Biden had been presented with a variety of options and recommendations on how best to address the situation, which has happened before in previous years.
“Currently we assess that this balloon has limited additive value from an intelligence collection perspective. But we are taking steps, nevertheless, to protect against foreign intelligence collection of sensitive information,” the official said. “We are also tracking what abilities it could have in gaining insights, and continue to monitor the balloon as it is over the continental United States.”
China claims suspected spy balloon is just a weather balloon
For what it is worth, NBC News noted that the Chinese government released an initial statement urging calm that insisted that China is “a responsible country that always abides by international law and has no intention of infringing on any country’s territory and airspace.” Beijing further claimed the craft was not a spy balloon but merely a “civilian airship” used to research weather that had accidentally “deviated far from its planned course” through no fault of their own.
Few are buying that excuse, though, as the senior Defense official told reporters “clearly the intent of this balloon is for surveillance” and that its “current flight path does carry it over several sensitive sites.” That said, it was assessed that “whatever the surveillance payload is on this balloon, it does not create significant value added over and above” what China already obtains through its network of orbiting satellites.
It is also worth noting that, per the unnamed official, there was a window of opportunity while the balloon was over sparsely populated rural Montana during which serious consideration had been given to shooting it down with fighter jets scrambled for exactly that purpose, but it was ultimately decided that the slight risk of potential debris damage on the ground outweighed the minimal threat posed by the craft remaining airborne.
NBC News also noted that top congressional leaders received a classified briefing on Thursday about the suspected Chinese spy balloon, and other members will likely be briefed at some point next week.