The United States government is currently tracking what it describes as a Chinese “high-altitude surveillance balloon” as it floats over Montana.
Update 2/3: China now claims that the balloon is a “civilian research craft” that was blown off course by prevailing winds and that it regrets the incident, Fox News reports. Original story below:
What some media outlets are describing as a “spy balloon” has apparently been slowly floating over the continental U.S. for a couple of days. While the government could shoot it down, the Pentagon has advised President Joe Biden against doing so for fear the falling debris could pose a greater security threat than the surveillance balloon could be gathering.
According to Reuters, the U.S. took “custody” of the balloon when it entered its airspace and have been closely observing it ever since, while also mobilizing F-22 fighter jets at a Montana airport.
“The United States government has detected and is tracking a high-altitude surveillance balloon that is over the continental United States right now,” Brigadier General Pat Ryder, Pentagon press secretary, says.
Photo from KSVI-TV shows a massive Chinese spy balloon over Montana. The U.S. military is tracking it pic.twitter.com/BWUBERWO1J
— BNO News Live (@BNODesk) February 2, 2023
“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. 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.”
While the U.S. government appears it convinced it is a surveillance balloon, the Chinese government denies it and claims that it is a simple weather balloon.
“I would like to emphasize that until the facts are clarified, speculation and hype will not be helpful to the proper resolution of the issue,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning says.
“China has no intention of violating the land territory and airspace of any sovereign country.”
Canada also has reported that there may be a “potential second incident,” and its defense ministry said a “high-altitude surveillance balloon” was detected, but gave no further details. It’s not clear what China would be trying to surveil with this huge balloon, which has been described as about the size of three buses.