The Chinese Communist Party (CCP)'s brazen intrusion into U.S. air space in early February 2023 provided the Chinese valuable streams of information. Clearly, the balloon first spotted over the continental U.S. on Feb. 1 was on a surveillance mission.
It departed the Chinese mainland on Jan. 21, traversed the Pacific Ocean, entered U.S. air space over Alaska's Aleutian Islands, and then, after drifting down Canada's west coast, entered continental U.S. air space. The White House reportedly was aware of the balloon from Jan. 28.
The Department of Defense (DOD) surely was tracking the balloon from when it left Asia. NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command), a joint Canadian-American defense team, would have picked it up as it approached North America.
Neither the Biden White House/DOD nor the Canadian government said anything publicly about the CCP balloon for over a week — until an American near Billings, Montana, spotted it on Feb. 1. The following day, a local Montana newspaper published a photo report about it.
That publicity alone seems to have prodded the Pentagon finally to confirm the existence of the balloon late Feb. 2. President Joe Biden never did speak formally from the White House to the American people about the Chinese incursion, but told reporters that he gave orders on Feb. 1 to shoot down the balloon.
Senior U.S. military advisers, including Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley reportedly pushed back against their commander-in-chief, insisting that shooting down the balloon could put civilians on the ground at risk from falling debris.
So, they decided to wait until Feb. 4, when after growing public pressure, media coverage, and outrage from Republican lawmakers, the Biden administration finally allowed a U.S. fighter jet to shoot down the balloon off the coast of South Carolina. Salvage operations to recover the balloon's sensor package continue as of this writing.
What can we conclude from this debacle of a performance by the Biden administration?
It's likely that in addition to whatever intelligence collection mission this spy balloon may have had, this was also and perhaps even primarily a CCP psychological operation against the American public.
We know now there have been other Chinese surveillance balloons flying over Asian allies including India, Japan, and the Philippines. Reportedly too, one may have crashed into the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Hawaii in fall 2022.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry belatedly admitted that the balloon shot down off South Carolina was China's but was just a weather balloon that blew off course. The Chinese then criticized the U.S. for "indiscriminate use of force" in the shooting down of its innocent weather balloon. On Feb. 6, the Chinese Foreign Ministry added that another of its "weather balloons" had inadvertently drifted off course, too, and was floating above Colombia.
The intelligence collection aspect of this spy balloon is clear: flying at about 60,000 feet over some of the U.S.'s most sensitive military bases, this balloon potentially would have been able to collect information about two out of the three legs of our nuclear defense triad.
There was a media report that the U.S. military may have disabled the balloon's sensor package capabilities, but that is not confirmed. Rick Fisher, writing at The Epoch Times, noted that even had the balloon been "merely" a weather balloon, it could have collected detailed weather information including atmospheric density and temperatures that could assist the People's Republic of China (PRC) in targeting its own ICBMs against U.S. ICBM silos in the event of nuclear war.
Beyond the intelligence collection mission, the Chinese may have been conducting a psychological operation, too. Breitbart writes that the Biden administration, including the U.S. military, chose to keep quiet about the balloon so as not to ruin a planned trip to Beijing by Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Did Beijing expect that would be the Biden administration response? Did China fly this balloon — which was maneuvered remotely on its journey — at an altitude it knew would be visible to Americans on the ground? Was that a deliberate effort to ensure we all would realize our government was not telling us or doing anything about it?
China's brazen disregard for international law and U.S. territorial integrity indicates a more sophisticated operation than just intelligence collection. It indicates that Beijing expected our national leadership would do nothing, just as it has done and said nothing about the non-security of our southern border, over which flow tons of deadly fentanyl that originates in China.
China wanted to be sure that the American public and the world would see what China could get away with and that our government cannot be trusted to defend our borders or our air space. The objective of this psy op: to degrade any remaining trust an already demoralized American public may yet have in our leadership, civilian or military.
So, the CCP achieves multiple objectives: whatever intelligence it succeeded in obtaining, but more importantly, displaying for us Americans and all the world our massive security vulnerability.
Either the military did not have the fighter aircraft or interceptor missiles capability in place to take down a spy balloon belonging to our most aggressive and dangerous adversary, or more disturbingly, U.S. political leadership lacked the resolve to take on China and potentially upset Beijing before Secretary Blinken could rack up his photo op in Beijing.
China has shown the American people, other rogue actors, and our friends and allies, that there is no one who will defend us against a hostile enemy that intruded into our country's sovereign air space. We deserve better and must demand better from our nation's leaders.