WATERLOO – Tuesday, the same day a White House official spoke to reporters about the significance of enhancing contact with the Chinese, President Joe Biden received his initial briefing regarding a Chinese spy balloon drifting above the United States.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken canceled a trip to China three days later due to the balloon.
One of the many unanswered concerns is why the balloon, which the Chinese claim is a “civilian airship” that was blown off course and was primarily used for meteorological research, was in American airspace and why now.
Beijing probably won’t learn more from the balloon than it can from the satellites both nations employ to spy on one another. And a flying object the size of two buses was not going unnoticed.
What message are they sending? Kari Bingen, a former deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence and security, questioned, “And what do they intend to accomplish? “Because you can’t miss this, in my opinion. They would be apprehended. That’s what makes it so audacious.
Transmitting a message?
A message from China is being sent to the Biden administration, according to Bingen, who is currently the director of the Aerospace Security Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.
The balloon landed not just before Blink en’s scheduled trip, but also just as the United States and the Philippines were finalizing an agreement to increase American military presence in that country. To resist China’s threats towards Taiwan and rising influence in the Indo-Pacific region is a part of the countermeasure.
According to a senior U.S. official who spoke on the condition of anonymity, if the balloon was intended as a retaliatory poke in the eye, it has backfired. China is currently lying and apologizing for violating American airspace.
But it’s also giving the Biden administration a political problem in addition to raising national security and diplomatic issues.
Democrat wants responses
Republicans aren’t the only ones who had issues with how Biden handled the circumstance. After the balloon passed over his state, Senator Jon Tester of Montana, one of the most vulnerable Democrats up for reelection in 2024, demanded “serious answers.”
Tester, the chairman of the Senate subcommittee that oversees the defense budget, announced that his panel will summon administration representatives.
He wrote on Twitter that “Montanans appreciate their freedom and privacy, and I’ll always fight to safeguard both.”
Not the first occasion
Spy balloon intrusions into American airspace have happened previously, Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters on Friday. However, he chose not to provide examples.
Ryder added, “What I would say right now is that it is classified. I can only confirm that there have been other situations in which balloons have flown over or close to U.S. land. I’m not able to give more information than that, though.
On Friday, the current one was passing east of the United States. According to a second senior U.S. official, the balloon is as large as two buses when equipped. It is covered in surveillance and intelligence sensors.
Uncertain what the Chinese are seeking
The individual, who was not authorized to talk in front of the public, claimed that it is unclear what the Chinese are seeking. Shooting it down would scatter debris over a huge area, increasing the likelihood of people being hurt or killed on the ground.
The balloon might contain basic intelligence gathering equipment for acquiring communications and other signals, snapshot photography, or full-motion video, according to retired Air Force colonel and intelligence officer Scott Murray.
However, Murray stated, “What causes me pause is the possibility of everything they put on the balloon being seized and used if the balloon is shot down.”
According to Thomas Karako, director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies Missile Defense Project, the balloon is likely to include several sensors that can be used to evaluate American military and civilian infrastructure, intercept communications, and perhaps even more operational technologies that can assist China in detecting American missiles.
It is a big platform with probably a sizable payload. The precise nature of the sensors is unknown. But anything might be the case,” Karako remarked. “Cameras are a possibility, but other options include infrared technology or signal intelligence. It might be absorbing electronic radiation, communications, or anything else.
The Biden administration should destroy it or find a method to capture it, according to Karako, a former aide on the House Armed Services Committee, to send a message to Beijing.
Republicans want to shoot down the balloon
Republicans criticized the administration for allowing the balloon to linger in many cases.
Former President Donald Trump, former Vice President Mike Pence, and Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, all of whom are considering running alongside Trump for the Republican nomination for president in 2024, all advocated shooting it down.
The balloon should never have been let to enter American airspace, according to Texas Republican Rep. Michael McCaul, who also serves as the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
McCaul joined others urging the administration to remove the balloon in a statement that read, “U.S. officials have stated they were monitoring this balloon since it soared over the Aleutian Islands – where it might have easily been shot down over the ocean.”
Defending against “armchair generals”
The top Democrat on the House intelligence committee and a representative from Connecticut, Jim Himes, urged “the armchair generals to take the boxing gloves off” to give decision-makers time to consider if shooting down the balloon is the appropriate course of action.
In other circumstances, Himes told, “you would much prefer to own something entire than scatter a debris field across hundreds of square miles.”
Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton pondered whether it could be possible to make a little tear in the balloon so that it could fall and be caught.
By doing so, he explained, “we can do to the Chinese what others do to us, and obtain the technology dangling from the balloon and discover what it is.”
The “most important bilateral partnership”
According to Friday’s statement from White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, the government is closely monitoring the situation and “keeping all alternatives on the table.”
She informed the press Biden was first informed on Tuesday and continues to get daily briefings.
John Kirby, a spokesperson for the White House, stated that Blinken’s intended trip was part of an effort to reopen some channels of contact between the countries on Tuesday.
According to Kirby, this bilateral relationship is the most important in the entire globe.
Blinken stated on Friday that he will reschedule his trip “when circumstances permit.”
The first step, according to Blinken, is to remove the surveillance asset from our skies.