Why the US hasn't shot down the suspected Chinese surveillance balloon, according to officials  (2023)

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14 hr 28 min ago

Why the US hasn't shot down the suspected Chinese surveillance balloon, according to officials

From CNN's Haley Britzky

As the US and its Canadian partners continue to monitor a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon floating above the northern United States, one question stands out among the rest: Why hasn’t it been shot down?

Officials have said that the balloon’s path carries it over a “number of sensitive sites” in the US. It has been seen over Montana, which is home to underground US military intercontinental ballistic missile silos.

But ultimately, officials determined that the potential damage of falling debris outweighed the risk of the balloon itself, which they said does not have the ability to bring in more intelligence than spy satellites in low Earth orbit, which China already uses.

“Why not shoot it down? We have to do the risk-reward here,” a senior defense official said on Thursday. “So the first question is, does it pose a threat, a physical kinetic threat, to individuals in the United States in the US homeland? Our assessment is it does not. Does it pose a threat to civilian aviation? Our assessment is it does not. Does it pose a significantly enhanced threat on the intelligence side? Our best assessment right now is that it does not. So given that profile, we assess the risk of downing it, even if the probability is low in a sparsely populated area of the debris falling and hurting someone or damaging property, that it wasn’t worth it.”

President Joe Biden was briefed on the balloon’s movements and requested options from his military advisers. And while there was consideration to down the balloon while it was over Montana, the advice was to ultimately not to.The Biden administration acted “immediately” to protect against the collection of sensitive intelligence, an official said on Thursday.

But that’s not to say that it couldn’t be shot down eventually; the senior defense official said on Thursday that the US has “options to deal with this balloon” if the risk it poses changes.

“We have communicated to [Chinese officials] the seriousness with which we take this issue. … But we have made clear we will do whatever is necessary to protect our people and our homeland,” the official said.

14 hr 46 min ago

The president was involved in high-level talks that led to Blinken postponing China trip, sources say

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

Why the US hasn't shot down the suspected Chinese surveillance balloon, according to officials (1)

Officials decided to postpone Secretary of State Antony Blinken's visit to China after high-level conversations between Blinken, President Joe Biden and other top national security officials, according to people familiar with the matter.

White House officials had viewed US-China relations as improving in the weeks following Biden's November meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Blinken's trip was to be the culmination of more robust talks between Washington and Beijing in the two months since the summit in Bali.

In the lead up to Blinken's trip, officials said it was possible that Biden and Xi could speak again at some point in the next several months.

But Biden has been sensitive to criticism from Republicans and others that he is too soft on China. He agreed with Pentagon recommendations not to shoot down the balloon, potentially endangering people on the ground, but he did want to demonstrate some type of response.

Officials also believed the timing of the balloon could throw off Blinken's agenda in Beijing, and did not necessarily want his visit to become solely about the incident.

14 hr 41 min ago

Senior US State Department official says a Beijing visit "wouldn't be constructive" now

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

A senior State Department official said Friday that "it wouldn't be constructive" for US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to visit Beijing right now due to the flying of a suspected Chinese spy balloon over the United States.

“[A] clear assessment was that under these current conditions, it wouldn't be constructive to visit Beijing at this time,” the official said, adding that the presence of the suspected Chinese spy balloon is “a clear violation of our sovereignty as well as international law.”

Blinken just postponed his upcoming trip to China in response to the suspected spy balloon,according to twoUS officials.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry maintains it is "a civilian airship used for research, mainly meteorological, purposes."

The official said the US has acknowledged China’s “statement of regret but the presence of this balloon in our airspace is a clear violation of our sovereignty as well as international law and it is unacceptable that this has occurred,” the official said, calling this not an accusation but “a statement of fact.”

Why the US hasn't shot down the suspected Chinese surveillance balloon, according to officials (2)

“After consultations with our interagency partners, as well as with Congress, we have concluded that the conditions are not right at this moment for Secretary Blinken to travel to China,” the official told reporters, noting that Blinken was due to depart for Beijing Friday night.

“In this current environment, I think it would have significantly narrowed the agenda that we would have been able to address,” the official added.

Blinken conveyed the decision to postpone the tripdirectly to China’s top diplomat Wang Yi on Friday morning, according to the official.

The US official said that Blinken intends to travel to China “at the earliest opportunity when conditions allow” but did not elaborate on what conditions the US is watching for.

“I think it might be best if I don't get into all of the details of our diplomatic communications. But I will underscore we have been crystal clear with our Chinese counterparts that this was an unacceptable and irresponsible incident,” the official said. “And we have been clear about, again, our concerns and our expectations.”

“I'm confident that that will continue, and I'm confident that given that our diplomatic channels remain open, we'll continue to address this matter forthrightly,” according to the official.

“I'm confident that our channels of communication will remain as important as ever,” the official.

15 hr 3 min ago

The Pentagon is tracking a suspected Chinese spy balloon over the US. Here's what we know so far

From CNN's Haley Britzky

Why the US hasn't shot down the suspected Chinese surveillance balloon, according to officials (3)

Officials have been tracking what they suspect to be a high-altitude surveillance balloon as it travels across the northern United States over the past several days.

A senior defense official said Thursday they are confident the balloon belongs to the People’s Republic of China, an assessment “shared across our intelligence and analytic communities.”

US officials maintain that the balloon does not pose a physical threat to people on the ground, nor are there significant concerns about the balloon’s intelligence-gathering capabilities.

Here is what we know so far:

  • About the balloon: The balloon, which is the size of three buses according to another defense official, was spotted over Montana, where the US military has underground intercontinental ballistic missile silos. The balloon is not capable of gathering intelligence better than China can already get from its satellites in low Earth orbit, according to US officials.
  • Can the US shoot it down? Senior military leaders have advised against shooting the balloon down. They say it does not pose a physical threat to people on the ground or to civilian aviation. There are, however, concerns about falling debris if it were to be shot down.
  • How the Biden administration is responding: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has postponed his upcoming trip to China in response to the balloon sighting. The postponementmarks a significant new phase in the tensions between Washington and Beijing.
  • What China is saying: Chinese officials called the balloon a “civilian airship used for research, mainly meteorological, purposes,” which “deviated far from its planned course.”
  • US Lawmakers weigh in: Montana Sen. Jon Tester, the top defense appropriator, called the balloon a "provocation" and "completely unacceptable." House Speaker Kevin McCarthy called it a "destabilizing action that must be addressed."
  • What happens now: Sources familiar with the matter told CNN that Beijing likely can predict the balloon’s path and can control its internal surveillance gear to a certain extent. The balloon is also being tracked by the Canadian Armed Forces and Canada’s Department of National Defense.
  • This isn't a first: There have been similar incidents of suspected Chinese surveillance balloons over Hawaii and Guam in recent years, a US official said.
15 hr 32 min ago

Blinken postpones trip to Beijing after suspected Chinese spy balloon spotted over US, officials say

From CNN's Kevin Liptak andJennifer Hansler

Why the US hasn't shot down the suspected Chinese surveillance balloon, according to officials (4)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has postponed his upcoming trip to China in response to the flying of a suspected Chinese spy balloon over the United States,according to twoUS officials.

The postponementmarks a significant new phase in the tensions between Washington and Beijing.

The Chinese foreign ministry claimed Friday that the suspected Chinese high-altitude surveillance balloon flying over the continental United States is a "civilian airship" used mainly for weather research that deviated from its planned course. The statement by a spokesperson for the Chinese ministry is the first admission that the airship originated in China since the Pentagon revealed it was tracking the balloon on Thursday.

A US military official said that the incident was “definitely serious” because of the “audacity” of the Chinese government, rather than any intelligence gain. While existing satellites are able to gather similar amounts of information, the timing of the spy balloon — right before the planned Blinken trip — and the fact that this is right over the continental US contribute to the seriousness of this moment, the official said.

The top US diplomat’s trip to the Chinese capital was due to follow up President Joe Biden's meeting with Xi Jinping in Bali late last year.

"On China, as you know, President Biden, President Xi had a very open, candid conversation during the last G20 meeting in Bali, and they spoke about our intentions," Blinken said at a press conference in Washington, DC, in January. "President Biden shared our intentions and our priorities, and we got some sense of that from President Xi as well."

"These lines of communication, starting with the presidents but also including many of us, are vitally important," Blinken said at the time.

13 hr 19 min ago

Montana residents film suspected spy balloon

From CNN’s Henry Klapper and Caroll Alvarado

Montana resident Ashley McGowan told CNN she received a call from her neighbor wondering if she had heard jets flying about their neighborhood in the town of Reed Point on Wednesday.

McGowan said she went outside to let her dogs out and saw a bright white dot in the sky.

At first, she said she and her husband asked themselves, “What's happening? Is this a UFO or is it like trash or is it the star? I had somebody try to tell me it was the green comet; I'm like, that's way too close to be the comet,” McGowan said. “This isn't normal. There's jets flying everywhere.”

McGowan said her husband, Dylan Nobles, brought out a spotting scope and tried to judge how far it was. The closest estimate he could get was about 27,000 feet in the sky.

McGowan said she witnessed an airliner divert away from it and that jets were flying overhead for at least 45 minutes while they were watching the sky.

Reed Point is about 60 miles west of Billings.

On Wednesday, Michael Alverson was working at the mines in Billings, Montana, when he looked up and noticed a glowing orb in the sky.

Alverson told CNN he quickly realized it couldn’t be the moon, so he brought out his binoculars to take a closer look at it.

“Me and my coworkers were shocked, so we tried to get binoculars and get a closer look,” Alverson said. “It appeared to be a weather balloon or so we thought.”

16 hr 32 min ago

Former defense secretary explains why he recommends against shooting down the Chinese balloon

From CNN's Andrew Millman

Why the US hasn't shot down the suspected Chinese surveillance balloon, according to officials (5)

Former Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said he wouldn't recommend shooting down the suspectedChinesehigh-altitude surveillance balloon.

“My interest would be not necessarily shooting it down, but bringing it down so that we can capture the equipment and understand exactly what they’re doing, are they taking pictures? Are they intercepting signals? What are they doing and what is the level of technical capability?” Esper, who served under former President Donald Trump said, “Now, failing that, I would definitely shoot it down, provided that there’s no risk to people on the ground.”

Esper also suggested that there may be “a counterintelligence value" in letting the balloon pass. "There’s always more to this than meets the eye. I wouldn’t be privy to that now, so I give the Pentagon some room here.”

Esper called this suspected surveillance attempt a "brazen act by the Chinese."

“Curiously, the Chinese are not outright denying it as they typically do,” Esper stated, “so the way they’re playing this is quite curious to me as well.”

Meanwhile, this development has made top US Secretary of State Antony Blinken's upcoming trip to Beijing uncertain. Esper said canceling the trip could be one option to consider, among others.

"I think we need to know more, and we need to assess what’s happening in the broader context," he said. “Sometimes you call off trips like this, or sometimes you prepared to give a very, very strong statement of China violating our sovereignty."

16 hr 46 min ago

China says balloon is for research and entered US after deviating from planned course

From CNN’s Beijing Bureau and Martin Goillandeau

The suspected Chinese high-altitude surveillance balloon flying over the continental US entered the US airspace “due to force majeure,” a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said on Friday, confirming the airship was from China.

“It is a civilian airship used for research, mainly meteorological, purposes. Affected by the Westerlies and with limited self-steering capability, the airship deviated far from its planned course. The Chinese side regrets the unintended entry of the airship into US airspace due to force majeure,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

“The Chinese side will continue communicating with the US side and properly handle this unexpected situation caused by force majeure,” the statement added.

What is a Force Majeure? "Force Majeure" — which means "greater force" — excuses a party from liability if an unforeseen event, such as a natural catastrophe, prevents it from performing its obligations under the contract.

16 hr 45 min ago

US believes China doesn't have control over movements of suspected spy balloon and it relies on jet stream

From CNN's Natasha Bertrand and Oren Liebermann

Sources familiar with the matter tell CNN that it appears that the suspected Chinese spy balloon movements appear to rely primarily on the jet stream, allowing Beijing to predict its likely path.

China can control the surveillance balloon to an extent, for example by turning on and off the surveillance gear inside of it, the sources said.The fact that China does have some control over the balloon's capabilities iswhy the US government has raised their concerns with Beijing about it, the sources said.

What US officials are saying: The balloon’s surveillance equipment appears to be powered by a solar array, one US official said, which would provide the system with a reliable source of power at high altitude. But the solar array does not appear to be connected to any type of motor that would allow China to steer the balloon, the official added.

Pentagon officials said they did not believe the balloon had surveillance or intelligence-gathering capabilities above and beyond Chinese spy satellites in low earth orbit, but unlike satellites that pass rapidly over a location every 90 minutes, a spy balloon can loiter over a spot and gather more of a “pattern of life” of a particular site, the official said.

In the past, the US has simply allowed balloons like this to waft away, without taking any action or publicizing their presence over the US, the sources said. It is also not the first time a surveillance balloon has appeared over the United States.

The US official said there were similar incidents with suspected Chinese surveillance balloons over Hawaii and Guam in recent years. On Thursday, a senior defense official said, “Instances of this activity have been observed over the past several years, including prior to this administration.”

The US government now believes that it has gotten China's attention about the balloon, and that the matter could be resolved soon, the sources said.

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