Biden China Balloon Shootdown was All Politics

Biden China Balloon Shootdown was All Politics

© David Burton 2023

Spy Balloon

     Early in February 2023, President Biden ordered the Air Force to shoot down a high altitude balloon that had drifted across the continental United States and was then over the western Atlantic Ocean.

     A U.S. military fighter jet shot down the suspected Chinese spy balloon off the coast of South Carolina on Saturday, 4 February 2023, a week after it entered U.S. airspace and triggered a dramatic - and public – possible spying saga that worsened Sino-U.S. relations.
     President Joe Biden said he had issued an order on Wednesday to take down the balloon, but the Pentagon had recommended waiting until it could be done over open water to safeguard civilians from debris crashing to earth from several thousands of feet above commercial air traffic.
     An F-22 fighter jet from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia took the shot, using a single AIM-9X supersonic, heat-seeking, air-to-air missile. The balloon went down about six nautical miles off the U.S. coast, over relatively shallow water, potentially aiding efforts to recover elements of the Chinese equipment in the coming days.
     While the shootdown concluded the military dimension to the potential spying saga, Biden continued to face intense political scrutiny from Republican opponents in Congress who argued he failed to act quickly enough.
     Questions also remained about how much, if any, information China may have gathered during the balloon's trek across the United States. After all, there are no international restrictions on spy satellites flying over any part of the earth and collecting intelligence information. What useful information could a “spy balloon” collect that a spy satellite could not?
     The balloon first entered U.S. airspace in Alaska on 28 January before moving into Canadian airspace. It then re-entered U.S. airspace over northern Idaho on 31 January.
     U.S. officials did not publicly disclose the balloon's presence over the United States until Thursday, 2 February.
     "It's clear the Biden administration had hoped to hide this national security failure from Congress and the American people," said U.S. Representative Mike Rogers, a Republican who leads the House Armed Services Committee.
     Biden's emphasis on Saturday that - days earlier - he ordered the balloon shot down as soon as possible was likely just an effort to respond to such critics. U.S. Government officials on Saturday appeared to justifiably play down the balloon's impact on U.S. national security.
     "Our assessment - and we're going to learn more as we pick up the debris - was that it was not likely to provide significant additive value over and above other (Chinese) intel capability, such as satellites in low-Earth orbit," a senior U.S. defense official said.
     Meanwhile, China expressed regret that an "airship" supposedly used for civilian meteorological and other scientific purposes had strayed into U.S. airspace. China's foreign ministry said on Saturday that the flight of the airship over the United States was a force majeure accident, and accused U.S. politicians and media of taking advantage of the situation to discredit Beijing.[1]

     Was President Biden’s action in ordering the Chinese balloon shot down a political move rather than an issue of national security? You can bet it was! What security threat did the balloon pose when it was drifting eastward away from the eastern U.S. shores? If the balloon was a security threat, President Biden should have ordered it to be shot down when it entered Alaskan air space or when it reappeared over the western United States. He didn’t issue the shoot-down order when his action might have been meaningful. Instead, he waited until any potential threat was past – too little and much too late!

     Shortly after the shoot-down off the US coast, officials said that the suspected Chinese surveillance balloon was about 200 ft tall and carrying an airliner-sized load.
     At a briefing on 6 February, a US defense official said the size and make-up of the object determined the decision not to shoot it down while it was over land. "Picture large debris weighing hundreds if not thousands of pounds falling out of the sky," said an Air Force general. At the time, the U.S. was still working to recover debris off the coast of South Carolina.
     Meanwhile, Republican politicians accused US President Joe Biden of a dereliction of duty for allowing the balloon to traverse the country unhindered.
     A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson confirmed that a second balloon floating over Latin America was also Chinese.[2]

     The action – and inaction - by President Biden was nothing more than pure politics. After all, there are dozens, if not hundreds of spy satellites flying over every country on the face of this planet every day and night of the year. Nobody is complaining about them and nobody is shooting them down. The United States of America operates many spy satellites that fly over numerous foreign countries. Countries like the Soviet Union and China fly their surveillance satellites over this country and we do not complain and we do not shoot them down.

     And let’s remember who it was that initiated spy flights over foreign countries – It was the United States with its U-2 spy planes in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

     Back then, Cold War tensions fueled a constant demand for up-to-date intelligence about the ‘enemy’. One innovation, developed and built by the United States company Lockheed, was the U-2 spy plane.
     First constructed in the mid-1950s, the U-2 was a jet aircraft capable of flying at more than 60,000 feet, twice the altitude of modern passenger jets. This high ceiling allowed it to overfly enemy territory, largely safe from the interceptor aircraft and surface-to-air missiles of the time.
     The U-2 was designed primarily for reconnaissance. Its underbelly contained an array of cameras so powerful they could capture a newspaper headline from miles in the sky. Flying the U-2 was notoriously difficult, however. The aircraft had to be flown at close to maximum speed to prevent stalling; it was very sensitive to crosswinds and troublesome to land. Pilots had to wear high-altitude gear that bore some similarity to spacesuits.
     American U-2s began secret flights over Soviet territory in mid-1956. To minimize the dangers of capture, these U-2s were armed with a self-destruct mechanism and their pilots supplied with suicide devices.
     In 1960, the US conducted U-2 high altitude flights over Soviet bases, test sites and missile silos in central Asia. These operations were conducted by the “civilian” Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), largely because the presence of an American military plane over Soviet territory could be construed as an act of war.
     In April, a U-2 launched from Pakistan played cat-and-mouse with Soviet MiG jets before landing in Iran. Another U-2, piloted by Francis Gary Powers, was launched on May 1st with orders to photograph Soviet installations, including ICBM silos and a plutonium factory. Soviet air defenses became aware of this mission and scrambled jets – but the U-2’s ultra-high altitude prevented it from being intercepted.
     While flying over the Ural Mountains, Powers’ U-2 was struck by a surface-to-air missile and it crashed. Powers ejected from his crippled plane and parachuted into Russia, where he was immediately captured.
     When Powers failed to arrive at his designated landing site, American commanders assumed he was dead and his plane had crashed or been shot down. Washington informed the press that an American plane was missing in eastern Europe – but described it as a “weather plane” - Does this claim sound familiar – something like a lost weather balloon??? To support this charade, another U-2 was painted with NASA livery and shown to the media, to suggest they regularly undertook meteorological research. Believing Powers to be dead, the US also claimed the loss may have been due to a faulty oxygen supply causing the pilot to ‘black out’ and fly dramatically off-course. Also sounds familiar – like a weather balloon being blown off course!!!
     Days after this fictitious cover story was presented to the world, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev sprang his trap. Khrushchev announced that the USSR had possession of a US spy plane, explaining that it had been shot down over Soviet territory. Its American pilot, he said, was alive and in custody. The Russians even salvaged film from cameras onboard the U-2. Once developed this film revealed covert photographs of Soviet military and nuclear installations.
     The capture of Powers, the U-2 wreckage and its surveillance images triggered a propaganda crisis for the US. Washington had been caught lying and Khrushchev made the most of it, demanding an apology from U.S. president Dwight Eisenhower (he refused to give one). Powers was later returned to the U.S. in exchange for a previously captured Russian spy.
     One American general has said that, “I have to tell you that the handling of that critical international situation – and it was critical – was about as clumsy in my opinion as anything our government has ever done. We had absolutely failed to consider the ‘what ifs’ of the U-2 overflights in a thorough, realistic and searching manner. The shoot-down was a lesson that was burned into us by the way we mishandled it.”[3]

     Suddenly, high flying balloons over North America have become an epidemic. On Sunday, 12 February 2023, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that on his order a U.S. fighter jet shot down an “unidentified object” that was flying high over the Yukon, acting a day after the U.S. took similar action over Alaska.
     North American Aerospace Defense Command, the combined American-Canadian organization that provides shared defense of airspace over the two nations, detected the object flying at a high altitude Friday evening over Alaska, U.S. officials said. It crossed into Canadian airspace on Saturday.
     Trudeau spoke with President Joe Biden, who also ordered the object to be shot down. Canadian and U.S. jets operating as part of NORAD were scrambled and it was a U.S. jet that shot down the object.
     The Canadian Defense Minister told a news conference in Ottawa that the object, flying at around 40,000 feet, had been shot down approximately 100 miles from the Canada-U.S. border in the central Yukon. A recovery operation was underway involving the Canadian Armed Forces and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police ( RCMP).[4]

     Hopefully, the end of the balloon shootdown saga came in late march of 2023 when Senators Ted Budd (R-N.C.) and Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) announced in a release that they had introduced legislation that would require the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to create regulations mandating that all high-altitude balloons operating 10,000 feet above sea level have a tracking system that would provide the balloon’s altitude, identity and location.
     The bill would also require the FAA to work with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a United Nations agency that supports international cooperation in air transport, to create equivalent standards for high-altitude balloons launched from the rest of the world.
     “The recent shootdown of a Chinese spy balloon that traversed the skies over our country for more than a week highlights the immediate need for the FAA to re-evaluate how we track objects flying over American airspace,” Budd said.[5]

     Two tongue-in-cheek articles concerning the Chinese spy balloon for the 2023 Jewish festival of Purim:

     "When a spy balloon flies over the country, witnesses are needed for a crisis to be declared and action or inaction to be taken.
     "All are qualified to testify about spy balloons. Testimony can be received by night.
     "The officials would show pictures and ask questions like:
         "Where did you see it?
         "How big was it?
         "Did it have Chinese lettering on it?
     "In the beginning when the first 2 people would testify, the officials would try to cover it up. When too many witnesses came, the officials were forced to address the issue.
     "The officials themselves are ineligible to testify, because of a 'Domain Awareness Gap'.
     "In the beginning they would only shoot it down over water, but when the poll numbers corrupted, they would even shoot it down over land.
     "It would first be posted on Reddit. From Reddit to Tumblr, from Tumblr to WhatsApp, from WhatsApp to Twitter, from Twitter to Instagram, from Instagram it would be tagged as misinformation by the mainstream media.
     "According to some, one should only shoot it down over water, but after the fact, it is okay. One need not throw it in the air and shoot it down again."

     "Adora cruise lines, a joint venture between the China State Shipbuilding Corporation and the British-American-based Carnival cruise line, has announced a new concept in liesure cruising. Book your unique, high altitude tour of North America in the luxurious "Hindenburg class" of airship, a passenger-carrying version of the giant Chinese weather balloons so recently in the news.
     "The month-long cruises, high in the stratosphere, will take off from a Chinese air force base near Beijing. After crossing the northern Pacific Ocean, pasengers will be treated to an unmatched view of unique American sites below, including massive radar installations in Alaska, intercontinental ballistic missile silos in Montana, a stealth bomber base in Missouri, and major cities along the central Atlantic Coast. Passengers will have luxurious sleeping accomodations in private cabin suites, a choice of gourmet Western or Chinese cuisines, and full access to on-board gym and recreational facilities.
     "After the balloon makes a landing in Havana, Cuba, passengers will have the option of taking a complimentary jet airliner flight to New York City or Miami, or continuing their balloon flight, circumnavigatiing the rest of the world, culminating in a return to the launch point in Beijing.
     "In the unlikely case of interdiction by U.S. military forces, passengers will be provided with credentials identifying them as provisional members of China's meteorological society participating in a civilian weather research mission.
     "Passengers on the airship tour will also qualify for a 25% discount on the maiden voyage of Adora's new Chinese-built Vista-class luxury cruise ship, on it maiden voyage from its home port in Shanghai, before the end of 2023."

  1. U.S. fighter jet shoots down suspected Chinese spy balloon with missile, Randall Hill, Phil Stewart and Jeff Mason, Reuters, 4 February 2023.
  2. Suspected Chinese spy balloon was 200ft tall - US defence official, Bernd Debusmann Jr - BBC News, Washington,, 6 February 2023.
  3. GARY POWERS AND U-2, Jennifer Llewellyn and Steve Thompson, alpha history, 9 September 2018.
  4. Trudeau: US fighter shot down object over northern Canada, Jim Morris - AP, Boston Sunday Herald,
    12 February 2023.
  5. Chinese spy balloon takedown triggers Senate legislation on tracking, Jared Gans-, The Hill, 15 March 2023.
  6. HILCHOS SPY BALLOON, The Jewish Press - Pge P11, 7 March 2023.
  7. CHINA ANNOUNCES BALLOON TOURS OF NORTH AMERICA, The Jewish Press - Pge P3, 7 March 2023.

  6 April 2023 {Article 570; Politics_79}    
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