Spy Balloons Meant for Surveillance

By Karen Lizzete

Spy balloons shot down over South Carolina. Reports of China using them to spy on sensitive military sites concern the nation. College of Southern Nevada professors comment on the severity of the situation.

The object first seen on Jan. 28 when the United States Air Force tracked it over Alaska when it reentered the continental U.S. over Idaho. The USAF shot down the object on Feb. 4 over South Carolina waters, according to the U.S. Department of Defense’s Feb. 4 transcript.

Four total balloons confirmed shot down as of Feb. 13. The USAF shot down a second balloon on Feb. 10, a third on Feb. 11 and the fourth on Feb. 12, as noted during the White House press conference on Feb. 13 with John Kirby, assistant to the secretary of defense for Public Affairs at the Department of Defense.

“The first one was Chinese,” Kirby said.

China has, “Claimed the high-altitude surveillance balloon launched to be a weather balloon that was blown off-course.” China is claiming that the object had no surveillance technologies, according to the DOD transcript noted above.

Noted in the transcript, China’s claim was false. It was a surveillance balloon. The DOD is confident it was seeking to monitor sensitive military sites. “We saw it, as it slowed down, sped up, maneuvered a little bit, trying to get a look at sensitive military sites,” Kirby said.

“There is no question in our minds that system was designed to surveil,” Kirby said.

These balloons were not a singular incident.

Office of The Director of National Intelligence in its 2022 Annual Report on Unidentified Aerial

Phenomena showed that since July 2022, there were 163 objects characterized as balloons.

During the White House press conference noted above, intelligence-gathering programs occurred for many years without solid intervention from the United States.  This espionage program by China operated during the previous administration under Donald Trump undetected.

According to the DOD transcript noted above, “PRC (China) surveillance balloons (entered) the United States at least three times during the prior administration.”

College of Southern Nevada political-science professors are updated on the situation.

CSN Professor Dr. William Davis, chair of social sciences, said, “Shooting it down could be seen as an attack on China. If, on the other hand, the balloon was used for surveillance, then the U.S. had the right to shoot it down under the traditional principle of sovereignty.”

“I’m frankly not concerned about it from a U.S. security standpoint,” said Matthew Stein, CSN professor of political science.

“The U.S. probably conducts the largest espionage effort of any nation in the world,” Stein added. “To suggest that China is doing something that the U.S. isn’t currently doing, is naive.”

Stein is “Not supportive of the Chinese government’s actions, neither is he supportive of a seemingly bipartisan effort in the U.S. to paint China as inherently hostile, oppositional or otherwise evil.”

CSN instructor of political science Dr. Matthew Weiss said, “Assuming that the balloon was military in nature and origin, the U.S. was right to register its protest and take a firm stance against China for its brazen violations of U.S. sovereignty.”

China’s spy balloons damaged their relationship with the U.S. government. Weiss said, “Prior to this incident, it appeared that Presidents Biden and Xi Jinping were seeking to find a more productive way forward and reduce tensions on many fronts. It’s now far less likely that the U.S. will be prepared to give China the benefit-of-the-doubt on other issues.”

The U.S. reacted quickly to the spy balloons. “With U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s last minute cancellation of a planned trip to Beijing in the aftermath of the incident, the Biden Administration has already sufficiently put its foot down in my view,” Weiss said.

China’s spy balloons added to the growing tensions with the U.S. government. Weiss said, “The incident occurred against the backdrop of heightened concerns among U.S. intelligence analysts that China is on the verge of providing Russia with lethal military capabilities in its war against Ukraine.”

The U.S. “Exposed the PRC’s spy-balloon program to the world,” said Ned Price, spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State in a Feb.18 press release by the DOS. Secretary Blinken met with PRC State Councilor and Director of the CCP Central Foreign Affairs Office Wang Yi on Feb. 18 at the Munich Security Conference, according to the DOS press release noted above. “The Secretary directly spoke to the unacceptable violation of U.S sovereignty by the PRC high-altitude surveillance balloon. The Secretary made clear the United States will not stand for any violation of our sovereignty and must never occur again.”

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