The US government says another Chinese spy balloon is traveling over Latin America.
“We are seeing reports of a balloon transiting Latin America,” Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, a Pentagon spokesperson, told Fox News Friday night. “We now assess it is another Chinese surveillance balloon.”
Ryder said during a briefing Thursday the U.S. government detected a high-altitude surveillance balloon over the continental U.S. A senior defense official said during the briefing the U.S. government is “confident” the surveillance balloon is from the People’s Republic of China.
The balloon was recently over Montana, and the official said the government considered shooting it down but decided against using military force because of the potential risks. A spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry said Friday the balloon is a “civilian airship” being used for meteorological purposes and deviated from its planned course.
When President Biden was briefed on the situation, he asked for military options, the official said.
“You did see reports yesterday of a ground stop at Billings Airport and the mobilization of a number of assets, including F-22,” the official said. “The context for that was that we put some things on station in the event that a decision was made to bring this down while it was over Montana.”
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Update (2143ET): The City of Billings is aware of a video circulating social media of what appears to be an explosion in the sky. However, city officials confirmed with the Montana Disaster and Emergency Services and Governor Greg Gianforte there have been no explosions in Montana airspace.
“They are aware of the video, and it can not be substantiated,” the City said.
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Here’s the clearest picture of the suspected Chinese spy balloon.
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A suspected Chinese spy balloon flying over the US was spotted in the skies of north Kansas City on Friday afternoon.
The question people are asking: Where is the balloon headed?
To answer that, Capital Weather Gang said:
“Forward trajectory based on atmospheric steering currents would bring it close to St. Louis tonight & into North Carolina Saturday.”
A map of the balloon’s trajectory.
Others say the balloon could take a different path:
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Bloomberg confirmed US Secretary of State Antony Blinken would postpone his trip to Beijing amid spy balloon allegations.
The two-day trip was set to begin on Sunday. Even before Blinken postponed his trip, expectations were low to reset deteriorating Sino-US ties.
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In response to some US officials accusing China of sending a spy balloon near ICBM fields in Montana, the Chinese foreign ministry said the balloon was for monitoring the ‘weather’ and veered off course and entered into US airspace due to force majeure.
The ministry “regrets the unintended entry” and said Chinese officials would continue communicating with the US about the balloon. They added the balloon is for meteorological and ‘other scientific research.’
Earlier, foreign ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning urged the US to act “calmly and prudently” after some US officials accused China of sending a spy balloon.
“I want to emphasize that before the facts are clear, any speculation and hype are not conducive to the solution of the problem,” Ning said.
So China states the balloon is for weather purposes only, while some US officials declare it a spy balloon. One thing is certain. The balloon mysteriously ended up near a highly sensitive area in Montana that is home to ICBM fields.
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US military commanders have advised President Biden against shooting down a Chinese spy balloon flying over the US.
Reuters said the US military took “custody” of the “high-altitude surveillance balloon” and deployed military aircraft, including stealth fighter jets, to observe it.
Such balloons operate at an altitude of 15-22 miles, well above commercial air traffic. The balloon’s size is estimated to be equivalent to three buses.
“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 Thursday.
“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,” Ryder continued.
Right now, the spy balloon appears to be occupying Montana airspace. This alarmed the state’s Republican Senator Steve Daines, who sent an alarming letter to the Department of Defense (DOD). He said the spy balloon is a “concerning event”: because Montana airspace includes “Malmstrom Air Force Base (AFB) and the United State’s intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) fields.”
Daines wrote that given “the serious nature of the event,” he is “requesting a full security briefing from the administration on this situation.”
“It is vital to establish the flight path of this balloon, any compromised US national security assets, and all telecom or IT infrastructure on the ground within the US that this spy balloon was utilizing,” he continued.
“As you know, Montana plays a vital national security role by housing nuclear missile silos at Malmstrom AFB,” the senator said.
Separately, Canada’s defense ministry is monitoring a “potential second incident” but declined to give further details.
News of the spy balloon followed CIA Director William Burns’ speech at a Georgetown University event, where he called China the “biggest geopolitical challenge” facing the West.