Pentagon: Suspected Chinese spy balloon flying over northern US

Source: The Hill | February 2, 2023 | Ellen Mitchell

The U.S. government is monitoring a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon that has been flying over the northern part of the country since earlier this week but has held off on shooting it out of the sky, senior defense officials confirmed Thursday.

“The United States government has detected and is tracking a high-altitude surveillance balloon that is over the continental United States right now,” Pentagon spokesperson Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters. “The U.S. government . . . continues to track and monitor it closely.”

Ryder stressed that the balloon is currently traveling in the atmospat at an altitude “well above commercial air traffic and does not present a military or physical threat to people on the ground,” and noted that after the balloon was detected the government “acted immediately to protect against the collection of sensitive information.”

The balloon, first reported by NBC News, was first spotted over Montana on Wednesday.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, traveling in the Philippines at the time, quickly convened a meeting of top military leaders, including Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley, and U.S. Northern Command head Gen. Glen VanHerck, a senior defense official told reporters 

President Biden was briefed on the balloon and asked for military options, with Milley and VanHerck recommending he “not to take kinetic action due to the risk to safety and security of people on the ground from the possible debris field.” 

“We had been looking at whether there was an option yesterday” to down the balloon “over some sparsely populated areas in Montana, but we just couldn’t buy down the risk enough to feel comfortable recommending shooting it down yesterday,” the official said.

They declined to detail the exact size of the aerial object but said it was “large enough to cause damage” if downed.

The official also said the balloon is still over the U.S. but declined to say where it is currently.

The U.S. government is very confident the balloon belongs to China, as instances of such surveillance have been observed over the past several years, including prior to the Biden administration.


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