The White House says that China has been working on a balloon surveillance initiative in recent years “that it has used to violate the sovereignty of the US and over 40 countries across five continents,” according to a statement by National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson. On Sunday, the Chinese government claimed that the US illegally flew over 10 balloons in its airspace in the past year. The Biden administration denied the allegation. “Any claim that the US government operates surveillance balloons over the PRC is false,” Watson said in the statement.
“With the balloon at the beginning of February, the US caught China with its hands in the proverbial cookie jar and made the decision to make it public,” says Jake Williams, a former National Security Administration hacker and an analyst at the Institute for Applied Network Security. “There is likely a ton of statecraft happening in the background, either as a result of the decision to publicly acknowledge the first balloon or that led to the decision itself. Generally, yes, things change once a surveillance target knows they’re being surveilled.”
The Biden administration has been been criticized by some Republican lawmakers and others for being slow to shoot down the Chinese spy balloon and hesitant to reveal specific details about the three other UFOs taken out in recent days. (US officials said shooting down the balloon over land would pose an unacceptable risk due to falling debris.) RAND’s Tannehill says, though, that from an investigative perspective, it’s difficult to process so many cases simultaneously.
“The White House is caught between rapid response and getting the facts right,” Tannehill says. “Until the path analysis is done, we’re guessing at who launched them. Getting the facts wrong publicly would be highly damaging to US credibility.” She adds that the UFO disabled on Saturday that also flew over Canadian airspace “brings another NATO country into the discussion, and it becomes a NATO problem, not just US or NORAD,” the North American Aerospace Defense Command.
Of the object shot down on Sunday over Lake Huron, the US Defense Department said in a statement, “We did not assess it to be a kinetic military threat to anything on the ground, but assess it was a safety flight hazard and a threat due to its potential surveillance capabilities. Our team will now work to recover the object in an effort to learn more.”
Oh, and if you’re still holding out for this flurry of aerial activity to be related to aliens, the White House is here to burst your bubble: “I know there have been questions and concerns about this,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said at a press conference yesterday, “but there is no, again no indication of aliens or extraterrestrial activity with these recent takedowns.” General Glen VanHerck, commander of the Air Force’s Northern Command, added during a news conference on Sunday, though, “I haven’t ruled out anything at this point.”