Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder said the US government has been tracking the Chinese balloon for days as it traveled over the northern United States, he also said 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.”
Senior military officials advised President Joe Biden not to shoot down the balloon fearing the debris could become a safety issue for 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 flies it above “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, said the official.
The official said, the US 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.”
According to a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, the balloon entered US airspace by mistake.
“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 US believes Chinese spy satellites in low Earth orbit are capable of offering similar or better intelligence, limiting the value of whatever Beijing can glean from the high-altitude balloon, which is the size of three buses, according to another defense official. (CNN)
“It does not create significant value added over and above what the PRC is likely able to collect through things like satellites in low Earth orbit,” the senior defense official said.