With everything else going on in the world, the Chinese balloon that the US shot down off the coast of South Carolina on Monday has gotten a lot of attention.
First, Spencer at Legal Eagle takes on the legalities of us shooting it down:
Julia Ioffe too:
The local photography buff raced to get his camera and used it to snap a photo that quickly went viral. “I had posted a couple of photos just to social media, just joking, like I thought I saw a UFO,” the photographer, Chase Doak, told the local news station. “It was just right here. I was literally just right here in the vicinity of my driveway.”
Well, it seemed that Chase Doak and his camera forced the Biden administration to go public earlier than it wanted—if it wanted to at all. It also didn’t help that the Pentagon scrambled fighter jets to try to shoot the balloon down that afternoon while closing the civilian airport in Billings, only to determine that the debris radius—the undercarriage, the Pentagon later said, was the size of three buses—would be massive. Moreover, the Defense Department wondered, what if, in shooting at the balloon, it merely blew a hole in it, causing it to slowly drift down to the ground for hundreds of miles, landing god knows where? So the generals recommended against shooting at the thing while it was still over land and the jets were called back, but by this point the Chinese balloon was out of the proverbial bag, and held the entire nation in its thrall.
It was the perfect story for this nation of ours. Both parties now agree that China is a threat to U.S. interests and the balloon became a brilliant image and political foil. It allowed Republicans to paint Joe Biden as weak on China for not immediately blasting the thing out of the sky (though they would, I’m sure, have blasted him as reckless for any resulting damage on the ground). And when the Sidewinder did hit its target, shattering the spy balloon over the Carolina coast, it allowed Democrats to show their boss as cool and in control.
For national security types in D.C., however, it was a deeply weird and somewhat frustrating event. “I really would like fewer news cycles about the balloon,” one Congressional aide who works on intelligence matters groaned. “It’s like this was a TV episode written by Hollywood,” added one former senior national security official. “It’s not the most significant intrusion by the Chinese. They got, like, 5 million Americans’ personal data when they hacked the Office of Personnel Management and they got the SF86’s of everyone who served in the Obama administration,” the official continued, referring to the form one has to fill out to get a security clearance.
Boy, was it. “It’s the length of a narrative arc that Americans can pay attention to,” the official said. “The Ukrainians are coming up on a year of fighting. That’s too long for Americans.” Sad but true.
Meanwhile, the US says the balloon was part of a larger surveillance program:
The surveillance balloon effort, which has operated for several years partly out of Hainan province off China’s south coast, has collected information on military assets in countries and areas of emerging strategic interest to China including Japan, India, Vietnam, Taiwan and the Philippines, according to several U.S. officials, who, like others interviewed for this story, spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the matter’s sensitivity.
While most of China’s long-range surveillance efforts are conducted by its expanding military satellite array, PLA planners have identified what they consider to be an opportunity to conduct surveillance from the upper atmosphere at altitudes above where commercial jets fly, using balloons that fly between 60,000 and 80,000 feet or higher, officials said.
In recent years, at least four balloons have been spotted over Hawaii, Florida, Texas and Guam — in addition to the one tracked last week. Three of the four instances took place during the Trump administration but were only recently identified as Chinese surveillance airships. Other balloons have been spotted in Latin America and allied countries in the Pacific, officials have said.
And, of course, Weekend Update led with it: