The Pentagon said Thursday it was tracking the movements of a Chinese spy balloon flying high over US territory and sensitive military locations, and said it posed no direct threat.
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At the request of President Joe Biden, the Pentagon considered shooting it down, but the decision was not made because of the danger the debris posed to people on the ground, a reporter told reporters on condition of anonymity.
“We have no doubt that the ball comes from China,” he said.
“We are taking steps to protect against the collection of sensitive information,” he said, while insisting on “the limited added value in terms of information gathering” of the device, described as a balloon of rather large dimensions.
Suspicious Chinese spy balloon found over northern US
“The United States government … is pursuing a high-altitude surveillance balloon over the continental United States,” a Pentagon spokesman said. pic.twitter.com/X1hmYSBgD1
—John Martin (@MartinInMontana) February 2, 2023
“We felt it was large enough that the debris could cause damage” if it had been shot down in a populated area, according to the same source.
Pentagon spokesman Pat Ryder said the US and Canadian Aerospace Defense Command (Norad), based in Colorado (west), monitored the balloon’s path.
“The balloon is currently flying at an altitude well above commercial air traffic. It poses no military or physical threat to local people,” he said in a statement.
“This balloon is clearly intended for surveillance and its current trajectory is taking it over sensitive locations,” including air force bases and strategic missile silos, the first American official said, referring to the state of Montana in the western United States.
The balloon entered US airspace “a few days ago” but US intelligence was already monitoring it, the same source said, adding that it was not the first time the US military had witnessed such an intrusion .
But this time, the balloon stayed in United States airspace much longer.
Alerted to this, the US President immediately asked Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, who was in the Philippines on Wednesday, to give him options. He then held talks with the Pentagon chiefs of staff.
According to the same source, fighter jets approached the vehicle over Montana.
The incident comes days before a trip to China by the head of American diplomacy, Antony Blinken, to try to defuse tensions with the Asian giant.
Among the many contentious issues are Taiwan claiming China as an integral part of its territory and China’s activities in Southeast Asia.
In the Philippines, Lloyd Austin has signed agreements aimed at increasing the American military presence there in the face of China’s rise.
Washington raised the balloon incident with Chinese authorities.
“We have communicated to them the seriousness of the incident,” the US official said, adding, “we have made it clear to them that we will do whatever is necessary to protect our people on our territory.”