The Sentinel-Record

Pentagon: China’s conducted spy balloon program for years


WASHINGTON — The Chinese balloon shot down off the South Carolina coast was part of a large surveillan­ce program that China has been conducting for “several years,” the Pentagon said Wednesday.

When similar balloons passed over U.S. territory on four occasions during the Trump and Biden administra­tions, the U.S. did not immediatel­y identify them as Chinese surveillan­ce balloons, said Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, the Pentagon press secretary. But he said “subsequent intelligen­ce analysis” allowed the U.S. to confirm they were part of a Chinese spying effort and learn “a lot more” about the program.

He refused to provide any new details about those previous balloons. When pressed, Ryder would only say that the balloons flew over “sites that would be of interest to the Chinese.”

One of the possible incidents was last February.

Maj. Gen. Kenneth Hara, the adjutant general in Hawaii, tweeted about a balloon over Kauai a year ago. He said U.S. Indo-Pacific Command “detected a high-altitude object floating in air in the vicinity of the Hawaiian Islands” and sent up aircraft to intercept it. He said they visually confirmed it was an unmanned balloon with no identifica­tion markings.

Ryder declined to say whether this was one of the four previous incidents that the U.S. had discussed. Pacific Air Forces, the Air Force command in the Indo-Pacific, said that balloon was not shot down.

The recent balloon was shot down by a U.S. military fighter jet on Saturday. The Navy and Coast Guard are still working to recover pieces of the downed balloon so they can be analyzed.

China claims it was a civilian balloon used for meteorolog­ical research and sharply criticized the U.S. for shooting it down.

In response to questions about China’s explanatio­n, Ryder said Wednesday that, “I can assure you this was not for civilian purposes … we are 100% clear about that.”

Ryder said North American Aerospace Defense Command began tracking the balloon as it approached U.S. airspace. It passed north of the Aleutian Islands on Jan. 28 and moved largely over land across Alaska and then into Canadian airspace before crossing back into the U.S. over northern Idaho on Jan. 31, U.S. officials have said.

Top administra­tion officials were briefing members of Congress on the Chinese balloon surveillan­ce program in classified sessions on Wednesday and Thursday. Avril Haines, director of national intelligen­ce; Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman; Gen. Glen VanHerck, head of U.S. Northern Command; and Colin Kahl, the under secretary of defense for policy, were among those expected to brief lawmakers.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. has briefed dozens of countries on the program, which officials said has been active over five continents.

The foreign countries would include nations the U.S. believes have been surveilled in the past as well as NATO allies.

Stoltenber­g agreed on the nature of the Chinese threat, saying the balloon incident “confirms a pattern of Chinese behavior” and noting that Beijing had “invested heavily in new military capabiliti­es, including different types of surveillan­ce and intelligen­ce platforms.”

Those briefings were continuing Wednesday, and the State Department has sent a cable to all U.S. embassies and consulates outlining the administra­tion’s case against China and instructin­g American diplomats to discuss these points with their host government­s. However, the cable is less specific than what has been briefed to allies and partners.

Off the South Carolina coast, meanwhile, Navy divers began pulling pieces of the downed Chinese spy balloon from the depths of the ocean floor on Tuesday, using sophistica­ted reconnaiss­ance drones dubbed the Kingfish and the Swordfish to locate the debris.

Ryder said agents from the FBI and the Naval Criminal Investigat­ive Service are cataloguin­g the debris and transporti­ng it for further processing.

 ?? The Associated Press ?? ■ This image provided by the U.S. Navy shows sailors assigned to Explosive Ordnance Disposal Group 2 recovering a high-altitude surveillan­ce balloon Sunday off the coast of Myrtle Beach, S.C.
The Associated Press ■ This image provided by the U.S. Navy shows sailors assigned to Explosive Ordnance Disposal Group 2 recovering a high-altitude surveillan­ce balloon Sunday off the coast of Myrtle Beach, S.C.

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