The US is tracking a suspected Chinese high-altitude surveillance balloon over the continental .
United States, defense officials said on Thursday, a discovery that risks adding further strain to tense US-China relations
Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder said the US government has been tracking the balloon for several days as it made its way over the northern United States, adding it was “traveling at an altitude well above commercial air traffic and does not present a military or physical threat to people on the ground.”
Speaking on background, a senior US defense officialsaid senior military officials had advised President Joe Biden not to shoot it down due to fear the debris could pose a safety threat to people on the ground.
“We are confident that this high-altitude surveillance balloon belongs to the [People’s Republic of China],” the senior defense official said. “Instances of this activity have been observed over the past several years, including prior to this administration.”
While the balloon’s current flight path carries it over “a number of sensitive sites,” the official said it does not present a significant intelligence gathering risk. The balloon is assessed to have “limited additive value” from an intelligence collection perspective, the official added.
The US, the official said, is “taking steps nevertheless to protect against foreign intelligence collection of sensitive information. We are also tracking what abilities it could have in gaining insights, and continue to monitor the balloon as it was over the continental United States.”
McCarthy requests an intelligence briefing regarding the Chinese spy balloon above Montana.
Additionally, lawmakers call for “a full and accurate accounting” of what transpired.
Following reports of a Chinese spy balloon flying over Montana on Thursday night, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy requested a briefing of the “Gang of Eight,” the group of lawmakers tasked with reviewing the country’s most sensitive intelligence data.
President Biden cannot remain silent in the face of China’s flagrant disregard for American sovereignty, McCarthy wrote in a tweet.
In a series of actions meant to counter Beijing and reassure Indo-Pacific allies that America will stand with them against threats from China and North Korea, the U.S. is increasing its military presence in Asia.
According to the senior defence official, the United States has fighter jets, including F-22s, ready to shoot down the balloon if the White House so directs.
In the end, the Pentagon advised against it, saying that even though the balloon was over a sparsely populated region of Montana, its size would have produced a significant enough debris field to pose a risk to people.
The official declined to say how big the balloon was but claimed that, despite being at a great height, commercial pilots could still see it.