Montana senator says there is ‘concern’ Chinese spy balloon infiltrated US to target missile fields
Montana Senator Steve Daines fears the Chinese spy balloon floating above the US was targeting the state’s nuclear missile fields before it was discovered hovering over the northern United States for the last few days.
Daines sent a letter to the Department of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Thursday demanding information about the flight pattern and the ‘hostile’ country’s possible agenda.
While the Pentagon opposed President Joe Biden‘s request to shoot it out of the sky, Daines requested an urgent security briefing as he fears the state’s air force base and US intercontinental ballistic missile silos are in jeopardy.
‘It is vital to establish the flight path of this balloon, any compromised U.S. national security assets, and all telecom or IT infrastructure on the ground within the U.S. that this spy-balloon was utilizing,’ Daines wrote.
Senator Steve Daines is requesting a safety briefing about the Chinese spy balloon that has been hovering over Montana
The balloon is seen in the skies above Montana. Fefense officials confirmed the massive balloon has been in hovering above the US for a few days
Daines insisted the Department of Defense take the surveillance of the balloon of the balloon seriously, especially as it hovers over Montana.
‘Montana plays a vital national security role by housing nuclear missile silos at Malmstrom AFB,’ Daines wrote.
‘Given the increased hostility and destabilization around the globe aimed at the United States and our allies, I am alarmed by the fact that this spy balloon was able to infiltrate the airspace of our country and Montana.’
He further pleaded with Austin to take initiative for the ‘safety and security’ of Americans.
‘There is no higher priority for your administration than the safety and security of the American people and it is imperative that your administration reassure them of that fact at this time,’ Daines concluded.
Daines insisted the Department of Defense take the surveillance balloon of the balloon seriously
On Wednesday, Biden suggested the high-altitude balloon should be shot down, after it was spotted and reported by civilians in a commercial airliner, U.S. officials told The Wall Street Journal.
The Pentagon disagreed with the president while fearing civilian casualties if the giant balloon – the size of three buses – is exploded in the air.
‘The United States government has detected and is tracking a high-altitude surveillance balloon that is over the continental United States right now,’ Pentagon spokesperson Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder told NBC News.
‘We continue to track and monitor it closely.’
F-22 Raptors were sent from Nellis Air Force Base in southern Nevada, but they are not thought to have engaged with the balloon – their activities prompted a ground stop at the airport in Billings, however, with air traffic controllers citing a ‘special military mission.’
Sources told NBC News that there were concerns about the possible debris from shooting the balloon out of the sky. ABC News reported it was as big as three buses, and had what they termed ‘a technology bay’.
It was flying above Billings, Montana on Wednesday, NBC reported. Montana is home to fields of underground Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile silos.
China is thought to be flying a surveillance balloon over the United States, and Joe Biden (left) wanted to shoot it down. Pictured right is President Xi Jinping
A senior defense official said that the U.S. has ‘been tracking it for some time.’
They added: ‘And we have had custody of it the entire time it has been over U.S. airspace, entered the continental United States airspace a couple of days ago.’
It is not the first time spy balloons have been spotted over the United States, but this one has stayed for longer than usual.
Chinese spy balloons have previously been seen over Hawaii and Guam, officials said on Thursday night.
The balloon’s current flight path carries it over ‘a number of sensitive sites,’ a source told CNN – but the official said it does not present a significant intelligence gathering risk.
Map showing the areas of the six Minuteman Missile wings on the central and northern Great Plains. The areas in black denote deactivated missile wings, the areas in red denote the active missile wings
The Pentagon said that, once it was detected, they acted to prevent sensitive information being stolen.
‘Once the balloon was detected, the U.S. government acted immediately to protect against the collection of sensitive information,’ they said – without specifying what actions they took.
A defense source said: ‘We know exactly where this balloon is, exactly what it is passing over.
‘And we are taking steps to be extra vigilant so that we can mitigate any foreign intelligence risk.’
The high-altitude balloon was spotted over Billings, Montana, on Wednesday – having flown in above the Aleutian Islands, through Canada, and into Montana.
The Pentagon said the balloon is still over the U.S. – but would not say where.
In a sign of how seriously the incursion was being taken, the Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin, gathered his military chiefs for an emergency meeting on Wednesday to discuss the balloon. He was traveling in the Philippines at the time.
Lloyd Austin, the Defense Secretary, gathered his top advisors and military chiefs on Wednesday to discuss the spy balloon
PENTAGON CONFIRMS SPY BALLOON
Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, Pentagon press secretary:
‘The United States Government has detected and is tracking a high altitude surveillance balloon that is over the continental United States right now.
‘The U.S. government, to include NORAD, continues to track and monitor it closely.
‘The balloon is currently traveling at an altitude well above commercial air traffic and does not present a military or physical threat to people on the ground.
‘Instances of this kind of balloon activity have been observed previously over the past several years.
‘Once the balloon was detected, the U.S. government acted immediately to protect against the collection of sensitive information.’
Present were Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; General Van Herck, commander of NORTHCOM/NORAD, and other combatant commanders, NBC reported.
They discussed shooting it out of the sky, but decided it was too risky to recommend.
They decided not to ‘take kinetic action due to the risk to safety and security of people on the ground from the possible debris field.’
A defense source explained: ‘We have to do the risk-reward here.
‘So the first question is does it pose a threat – physical kinetic threat to individuals in the United States or the U.S. Homeland. Our assessment is it does not.
‘Does it pose a threat to civilian aviation? Our assessment is it does not.
‘Does it pose a significantly enhanced threat on the intelligence side? Our best assessment right now is that it does not.
‘And so given that risk, that profile, we assess that the risk of downing it, even if the probability was low in a sparsely populated area of the debris falling and hurting somebody or damaging property that it wasn’t worth it and that was the recommendation of our military commanders.’
Pentagon leaders presented the options to Biden on Wednesday, NBC said.
‘Currently we assess that this balloon has limited additive value from an intelligence collection perspective over and above what the PRC can do through other means,’ the senior defense official said.
‘Nevertheless we are taking all necessary steps to protect against foreign intelligence collection of sensitive information.’
The official said the balloon does not pose a threat to civil aviation because of its altitude.
The U.S. is confident the balloon was launched by China, the source told NBC News, and has raised the issue with Beijing.
The complaint was to the Chinese government ‘through multiple channels both here in D.C. and in Beijing.’
It is unclear whether China admitted the balloon was theirs.
If the risk of the balloon changes, the U.S. ‘will have options to deal with this balloon,’ a source told CNN.
‘We have communicated to [Chinese officials] the seriousness with which we take this issue,’ the source said.
‘But we have made clear we will do whatever is necessary to protect our people and our homeland.’
The brazen move comes days before Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to travel to the Chinese capital for high-level talks.