“SHOOT DOWN THE BALLOON!” Trump posted on Truth Social Friday morning after the Pentagon confirmed the previous evening that a Chinese spy balloon had been floating over the U.S. for several days after first being spotted near Billings, Mont.
In a press briefing on Friday, Pentagon spokesman Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said: "The United States government has detected and is tracking a high-altitude surveillance balloon that is over the continental United States right now. The U.S. government, to include NORAD, continues to track and monitor it closely. 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. Instances of this kind of balloon activity have been observed previously over the past several years. Once the balloon was detected, the U.S. government acted immediately to protect against the collection of sensitive information."
Another senior Defense Department official told reporters at the same briefing: “We are confident that this high-altitude surveillance balloon belongs to the [People’s Republic of China]."
The official said President Joe Biden was briefed on the situation and had asked for military options, but that “it was the strong recommendation by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. [Mark] Milley and the commander of NORTHCOM, Gen. Glen VanHerck, not to take kinetic action due to the risk to safety and security of the people on the ground from the possible debris field.”
“Currently we assess that this balloon has limited additive value from an intelligence collection perspective. But we are taking steps, nevertheless, to protect against foreign intelligence collection of sensitive information," the senior defense official added. "We are also tracking what abilities it could have in gaining insights, and continue to monitor the balloon as it is over the continental United States."
Later Friday, the balloon was seen as it moved eastward, first some 20 miles north of Kansas City, then hovering over the Missouri capital of Jefferson City.
The senior defense official said the Pentagon's best assessment is that the balloon does not provide “significant value added” over what Beijing is “likely able to collect through things like satellites in Low Earth Orbit.”
“But out of an abundance of caution, we have taken additional mitigation steps,” the official noted further. “I’m not going to go into what those are. But we know exactly where this balloon is, exactly what it is passing over. And we are taking steps to be extra vigilant so that we can mitigate any foreign intelligence risk.”
The balloon transited over Montana Wednesday. The state houses Malmstrom Air Force Base, where U.S. Minuteman III nuclear missiles are stored, according to the base’s website.
North American Aerospace Defensive Command (NORAD) scrambled aircraft, including F-22 Raptors and early warning aircraft, from Nellis Air Force Base when the balloon flew over a remote area of Montana, NBC News first reported. The Billings airport conducted a ground stop, citing a “special military mission,” which was later lifted, according to the defense official.
There have been similar instances a “few” times in recent years, including under both the Biden and Trump administrations, the official added. “I think the thing that is different is the altitude and of course, the willingness that put it in the continental United States for an extended period of time,” he said.
China is scoping out its biggest enemy, and Biden is doing nothing but watching.