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US Says It’s Tracking 'Chinese' Spy Balloon Flying Over Sensitive Military Sites

February 3, 2023

The US has “very high confidence” it is a Chinese high-altitude balloon and that it was flying over sensitive sites to collect information, the official added.

A suspected Chinese surveillance balloon has been flying over the United States for a couple of days but the Pentagon has decided not to shoot it down for fear of harming people on the ground.

According to an official of the Pentagon who spoke on condition of anonymity on Thursday, the US took “custody” of the balloon when it entered US airspace and had observed it with piloted US military aircraft, Al Jazeera reports.

The US has “very high confidence” it is a Chinese high-altitude balloon and that it was flying over sensitive sites to collect information, the official added.

One of the places the balloon was spotted was Montana, which is home to the Malmstrom Air Force Base, where there are some 150 silos for intercontinental ballistic missiles, including the nuclear-capable Minuteman III.

“The United States government has detected and is tracking a high-altitude surveillance balloon that is over the continental United States right now,” Pentagon spokesperson Brigadier General Patrick Ryder told reporters.


“The balloon is currently travelling at an altitude well above commercial air traffic and does not present a military or physical threat to people on the ground.”

He said similar surveillance activity has been seen in the past few years, adding that the US had taken steps to ensure the balloon did not collect sensitive information.

US defence secretary Lloyd Austin, while travelling in the Philippines, convened a meeting of senior Pentagon officials on Wednesday to discuss the incident.

Republican US House of Representatives Speaker Kevin McCarthy said he would request a “Gang of Eight” briefing, referring to a classified national security briefing for congressional leaders, and Republican and Democratic leaders, of the intelligence committees.

The defence official said the US has “engaged” Chinese officials through multiple channels and communicated the seriousness of the matter.

The Pentagon announcement comes days before US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken is expected to travel to China.

It is not clear if this will affect his travel plans, which the State Department has not formally announced.




The US is expanding its military presence in Asia in a string of moves aimed at countering Beijing and reassuring Indo-Pacific allies it will stand with them against threats from China and North Korea. On Thursday, Austin announced an expansion of military cooperation with the Philippines, a longtime US ally in Southeast Asia.

The senior defence official said the US had mobilised fighter jets, including F-22s, to shoot down the balloon if ordered by the White House.

The Pentagon ultimately recommended against such action, noting that even though the balloon was over a sparsely populated area of Montana, its size would create a debris field large enough to potentially put people at risk.

The official said the current flight path would carry the balloon over several sensitive sites but did not give details.


A separate US official said the spycraft had been tracked near the Aleutian Islands and Canada before entering the US.

In a statement later, Canada’s Ministry of National Defence confirmed that a high-altitude surveillance balloon had been detected and its movements were being “actively tracked” by NORAD, a binational military command with the US.

“Canadians are safe and Canada is taking steps to ensure the security of its airspace, including the monitoring of a potential second incident,” the statement said.