meanwhile in Beijing an uncle is wondering just where his kite went https://t.co/luCqYpplUl
— James Palmer (@BeijingPalmer) February 2, 2023
🚨Blinken’s trip to China is postponed.@SecBlinken was to have mtgs in Beijing next week in 1st such visit by top US diplomat in 5 years. But the presence of the balloon—which the Pentagon decided not to shoot down—led officials to decide that going now would send wrong signal.
— Jennifer Jacobs (@JenniferJJacobs) February 3, 2023
Seems to me like a high-tech, high-stakes version of the kid playing the I’m not touching you game in the back seat…
Biden officials say they have noted China’s statement of regret but the presence of the balloon in US airspace is a violation of US sovereignty and international law. Blinken plans to travel when conditions are appropriate, officials tell reporters.
China’s balloon has continued to move eastward and is now over central US. Balloon has changed its course, Pentagon spokesman Pat Ryder says, per @rtiron. He declined to say whether it’s currently under China’s control. Shooting it down could pose danger from its “debris field.”
Actions were taken to block China’s ability to learning anything significant from the balloon, White House officials say. US govt has tracked similiar cases in the last several years, including during Trump admin.
LATEST: The balloon entered US airspace on Jan. 28, left it the next day and re-entered over northern Idaho on Tuesday, per sources. Military capabilities were mobilized in Montana to prepare to shoot it down, if officials chose to do so. https://t.co/sPSPybMzyg
— Jennifer Jacobs (@JenniferJJacobs) February 3, 2023
US officials believe the balloon is part of a broader Chinese spy program that’s seen many other devices sent over US, including some during Trump admin.
Story by @jendeben, @justinsink @PeterMartin_PCM @KatrinaManson @btaplatt @josh_wingrove and me:https://t.co/Vnjixmw2Az
— Jennifer Jacobs (@JenniferJJacobs) February 3, 2023
… People familiar with the matter believe the balloon is maneuverable —because they’ve detected it changing course — and anticipate it will likely remain in US airspace for several more days. Nonetheless, they’ve decided not to try to shoot it down for now, arguing that the risk to the public of falling debris is too high as its payload is the size of several buses.
They flatly dismiss China’s claim that it’s a weather-monitoring vehicle given its size, previous Chinese espionage activity in the same vein, and private acknowledgment from Chinese officials of its true nature…
Administration officials have downplayed the intelligence risk posed by the device, saying it has only limited value – and that the US took steps to further restrict intelligence that it could gather. The balloon’s flight path has taken it over areas where the US believes the Chinese already operate satellites that are better equipped to take high-resolution images of infrastructure and military bases.
They also say it poses no physical threat to military assets, US civilians on the ground, or aircraft that operate tens of thousands of feet lower in the atmosphere.
Still, officials believe that the Chinese balloons are able to photograph facilities from different angles than satellites, providing a unique advantage. The one spotted this week was lingering over Idaho and Montana, home to sensitive US nuclear missile silos and research facilities. The US also believes the Chinese have tried to buy property near the Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory, where the government conducts sensitive military research and development.
The balloons can also be deployed unexpectedly – so that the US has less time to hide assets they are hoping to be kept secret – and often have infrared sensors that provide different information than satellites. Blinken said Friday the US wanted to keep talking to China but “job one” was getting the balloon away from the US…
The White House said it had been on touch with the Chinese government, and Blinken called Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi directly on Friday to explain his decision to cancel his trip. Despite that threat, Pentagon officials – including Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley – ultimately advised Biden against shooting the balloon down.
They expressed concern that the resulting debris could pose a risk to US citizens and property, even if the balloon were downed over a rural area in the West. Biden agreed, though the military had mobilized equipment to the area to act if he had decided to shoot down the aircraft…
Still, the White House also refused to rule out eventually shooting the balloon out, with Jean-Pierre telling reporters that all options remained on the table. The White House began briefing lawmakers on the incident Thursday, and is working to set up additional classified sessions next week to detail what additional information they gather about the balloon.
(nearly) everything you wanted to know about spy balloons but didn't realize you needed to ask: https://t.co/O5z6aEBoJp
— Gerry Doyle (@mgerrydoyle) February 3, 2023
… * Such balloons typically operate at 80,000-120,000 feet (24,000-37,000m), well above where commercial air traffic flies – airliners almost never fly higher than 40,000 feet. The highest-performing fighter aircraft typically do not operate above 65,000 feet, although spy planes such as the U-2 have a service ceiling of 80,000 feet or more.
* The advantages of balloons over satellites include the ability to scan wide swathes of territory from closer in, and to be able to spend more time over a target area, according to a 2009 report to the U.S. Air Force’s Air Command and Staff College.
* Unlike satellites, which require space launchers that cost hundreds of millions of dollars, balloons can be launched cheaply.
* The balloons are not directly steered, but can be roughly guided to a target area by changing altitudes to catch different wind currents, according to a 2005 study for the Air Force’s Airpower Research Institute.
* The U.S. military has tracked other spy balloons in recent years, including before President Joe Biden’s administration, according to a senior U.S. defense official.
I’m willing to believe that neither Trump nor his favorite senior officials were ‘made aware’ of earlier incursions:
One top Trump official says none of the Chinese spy balloons back then were near sensitive sites or had payloads as large as this one appears to carry. Other sr Trump officials say they weren’t personally aware of any China surveillance balloons and don’t believe Trump made aware
— Jennifer Jacobs (@JenniferJJacobs) February 3, 2023
I’m not saying don’t be concerned about Chinese military capabilities and intentions. I’m saying don’t get too self-righteous about methods.
— Patrick Chovanec (@prchovanec) February 3, 2023
A Chinese spy balloon has been flying over the United States for a couple of days, U.S. officials said, in what would be a brazen act just days ahead of a planned trip to Beijing by Secretary of State Antony Blinken https://t.co/m0jiZJ6Lpk pic.twitter.com/WYO9hdFBlt
— Reuters (@Reuters) February 3, 2023
I’m surprised there haven’t been reports of Americans mooning the balloon yet.
During WWII, the Japanese tried to bomb the mainland US using balloons. Didn’t work very well; they didn’t have the same steer-by-changing-height capabilities and had tiny payloads, so a lot of wilderness got hit by small bombs, but I don’t think there was any real damage done.
Not a new thing at all, is what I’m saying.
Gin & Tonic
@Baud: I’d do it, but it’s cold out.
The balloon man graphic on this blog has never been more apt.
From one thing filled with hot air to another: Santos is also a Broadway producer!!! Of the worst flop ever.
I honestly think this dude is legitimately insane, and I don’t mean that in a colloquial sense. He needs help.
“Mr. President, we cannot allow a
@dmsilev: The bombs were incendiary devices, intended to start forest fires. They were sent in winter, when the forests were covered in snow.
@Baud: Don Jr is asking supporters to shoot it down. I expect that several magas will die attempting this
or what Old School said
@Alison Rose: If you’re going to lie about something like that, why not pick a musical that actually did well?
Like, say, The Producers.
Move over gas stoves. The wingnuts are about to have a new obsession.
@Old School: Yes, I’m sure the citizens of Montana, aiming their AR-15s more or less straight up, will be perfectly capable of shooting down a balloon that’s ten or fifteen miles above ground level. Or of killing themselves because what goes up must come down and that includes bullets.
@dmsilev: Maybe he thought people would be more likely to believe him if he picked something shitty?
@Old School: It wasn’t that many years ago, that a child was killed in Atlanta because someone on New Year’s Eve shot their gun in the air. Okay it was 12 years ago according the WSBTV
DECATUR, Ga.,None — A 4-year-old boy was killed by a falling bullet from celebratory gunfire while attending a New Year’s Eve church service in Decatur.
It happened at the Church of God of Prophecy in the 3300 block of Covington Drive in Decatur.
@Baud: I saw that and thought if folks don’t want schools to serve healthy food, then pack their children’s lunches. As far as I know they have free choice.
Sigh. It’s just a weather balloon that is very very far off course. Our collective freakout is absurd. I joked on Mastodon about RWNJs claiming it would bring Covid to the US, but an actual Congressman said that, so satire is dead. Excuse me, there’s got to be a rock around here I can hide under for the next fifty years…
Mike in Pasadena
@Old School: Ow! The stupid! It hurts.
@dmsilev: More likely to kill someone else because they won’t be shooting straight up.
Here’s a picture of that balloon.
I’m waiting for that thing to clear the North Carolina coast. If we’re going to shoot it down that will be where and when I think.
The last I heard, the balloon was now over Kansas.
Is anyone not on the right freaking out? Most people I see are amused.
CNN is on full balloon mode. This is the most excited since the balloon boy hoax. For us olds those were the great days of BJ.
@Baud: omg put on CNN. It’s hilarious, just like the olden days of the boy in the balloon. This time it’s the scary people stealing our secrets. Obviously, these folks never heard about satellites.
Eric Schmitt (r) expressed his upset at the Biden Administration “allowing” the balloon to overfly Whiteman AFB (the home of the B-2).
There was much hilarity in the comments. Included within – criticism for doxxing the B-2 bombers (I kid you not). Apparently, no one in China has ever learned to use Google Maps.
People really are that stupid.
Maybe they’re just checking on all of their Missouri farm landholdings
@Alison Rose: That’s certainly a fair point.
Haha. Media is lame.
Maybe if we shot it down, the balloon would land on Eric Schmidt.
@Baud: It’s not funny cuz I think it is now over Ozark’s land and they could steal his chickens. Kinda suck them up into the balloon.
@Old School: Lessee, does that AR-15 have an 80,000 ft range against gravity?
(Wets pencil lead, scratches numbers, carry the 22,342… I don’t do math!!!*)
* sez most everyone except nerd engineers. And physicists.
ETA @dmsilev: you (and I assume several others) got there first. Kudos for conversion to miles though.
Not Josh Hawley (r), though. He lives in Virginia.
Maybe Biden will have a live feed of them shooting down the balloon at the SOTU next week.
I think we should ask China for an apology, not for spying, but for the crudeness of it.*
Imagine a night out with friends at a fancy restaurant, when one of them stand ups, puts one foot on the table, and lets out a fart that rattles the windows. Everyone farts, but for the love of God Almighty have the decency to do it elsewhere so we don’t all hear your business.
We should call them out for the crass, brazen behavior.*
Also, I find this balloon stuff slightly amusing.
*Not intended to be actual foreign policy advice. For entertainment purposes only.
Nobody is faxing credenzas in this thread.
This isn’t nearly as much fun.
Are the helicopters laughing?
@frosty: On due reflection, I realized that the current Supreme Court would rule that the 2nd Amendment allows, indeed requires, private ownership of medium-ranged SAM systems.
@frosty: About 2 miles straight up for a typical gun. Physics majors do a lot of weird problems and remember a lot of weird results. Cletus gonna need a sounding rocket at least to get them commie Chinese off of his lawn.
Fox News web site is also wall-to-wall balloon coverage with four stories and a bunch of video.
Want to find reports on Fox News of the lowest unemployment rate since 1969 or the 517,000 jobs added in January, lots of luck.
@jackmac: i just want to know if our Ozark is okay because they are definitely going after him.
They weren’t going to report on that even if there were no balloons.
“It is balloon!”
– Chief Wild Eagle
@Baud: When aren’t they laughing. You know how catastrophically dumb helicopters are as a concept? If you don’t laugh, you have to face the grim reality that you have no failure recovery modes. None. Laughing is compulsory.
@dmsilev: Will medium range do the job? Sounds kind of short to me. (Apologies to DeSantis h/t to Kay).
Someone replied to Mark Alford’s (r) outrage, suggesting:
“Get a step ladder and your sling shot out tough guy.”
Are you certain it wasn’t Rick Brattin (r)?
@Baud: At least this way we don’t get a day of outrage at how the green M&M isn’t fuckable any more.
BTW, I’m about 99% sure M&M Mars is about to troll the fuck out of conservatives with a Super Bowl ad over that.
@Martin: I hope you are right, but I’m not sure the right wing would get it
Whatever happened to the Mr. Potato head outrage?
@WaterGirl: That comment was supposed to include “Russia, if you’re listening” because I think that’s exactly what Trump is doing with that comment.
Only this time it should be “Montana gun-toting tough guys, if you’re listening.”
@Martin: Please please please let there be an M&M version of the famed “last fuckable day” piece.
Edit: AutoCorrect wanted “last suckable day”. Sorry, AC, not this time.
First Posts by Current Authors
Balloon Juice Podcasts (2018)
DougJ Interviews John Cole (2021)
Falling with Lily
No, the Other Shoulder
The Lost Mustard
The Legend of Shitmas
Living the Dream
Faxing Credenzas / The Helicopters Are Laughing
Faxing Credenzas Explained
Tire Rims and Anthrax
Skull-fucking A Kitten
All Internet Traditions
I’m Probably Going to Hell for This
Soonergrunt’s Meta Thread
John Cole Registers as a Democrat
Tunch’s Cat Tower
RedKitten Play-by-Play of the Birth
Sweetest Pet Rescue Story
I Think This Is the One
Strange Woman in my Bed
The Day in Lily
Rails to Trails
The Subaru Saga
Another Day In Paradise
Still In The Field
Please Get My Fucking Subaru Out of the Field
Peak Wingnut by John Cole
Peak Cole by Tim F.
The PayPal Ordeal
PayPal Is Pissing Me Off
The Helpful People at PayPal
PayPal Is the Worst Company In the World
Day 76 of PayPal’s Reign of Error
A Human at PayPal At Last!
Gravatar Sunday (Chaos Reigns)
Oh My God, Gravatars
Okay, Now You Can Comment
Open Thread (Part 3)
The Gravatars Are Gone
The Story of Walter
I Found a Dog
Walter Gets a Name
Walter’s New Home
Walter Loves His Kids & More
Big Wings for a Big Cat
You Guys are the Best
I’m Off To Bed
First Meeting with Steve
Say Hello to Steve
Steve Gets ‘Tutored’
Doggie Drama Update
Rosie’s Adoption is Official
Rosie Is One of the Pack
Ginger, Thurston and Lovey!
First mention of Ginger, Thurston and Lovey.
Quick Puppy Update
Another Puppy Update
Puppies, Puppies, Puppies
Good Things Come in Small Packages
Puppy Update 7
A Few days after Thurston & Lovey arrived
Ginger Gets Loose / Dumpster Diving
@WaterGirl: I knew the Balloon Boy / Helicopters Laughing post had to be in that list from the BJ 20th anniversary.
F*cking stupid games! This is how nations sleep walk 1st into a Cold War, then sleep walk into a hot war.
By claiming it was a rogue weather balloon & expressing regret, it appears that the Chinese government is looking to sweep this incident under the rug, & continue to work stabilizing the relationship. In that case, it was extraordinarily stupid to send the surveillance balloon at this time in the 1st place. China just announced yesterday that Blinken was to meet Xi Jinping on his visit, which was pointedly not offered to Mike Pompeo the last time a SecState visited China, a sign of the importance that the two sides attach to these engagements (Yellen just met her counterpart Liu He on the sidelines of Davos). Postponing Blinken’ strip is bowing to GOP & media heckling.
At this point I think it would be better for the Biden Administration to shoot down the surveillance balloon & move on.
There will likely be another wave of tensions when Speaker Kevin McCarthy visits Taiwan in a couple of months. Who knows what he will say while there, just to piss off China & score domestic political points. I doubt he will be as circumspect as Pelosi on her visit in Aug. 2022, & she was very forward leaning already.
I think it is clear that there are elements on both sides of the Pacific that want to get on w/ the Cold War, & even elements that want to get the “inevitable” hot war over w/. Every time Biden & Xi have a meeting, the US announces sanctions or tech restrictions just before or just after, which I am sure puts Xi in a collaborative mood. Leaving aside the substance of the policies, the timings are decidedly unhelpful & hard not to interpret as deliberate.
A substantial part of the China watching community in the US (in academia & in parts of the think tank world) have been extremely concerned w/ the trajectory of the Sino-US relations. Governments in E/SE Asia have been worried for much longer. These developments should concern everyone.
I’d forgotten my plan as Governor of Texas to put prisoners on death row into balloons and let the citizenry decide their fate by shooting the balloon down. Feels more Florida than Texas now, though, TBH.
I don’t remember anyone mentioning this:
The endorsement is conditional on Feinstein actually retiring, but this may help her decide.
@dmsilev: If they could actually hit it* we would have the ultimate road runner clip. Bozos shoot straight up, wait 10 minutes, huge pile of hardware lands on them. If the Chinese have painted Acme on it, it would be perfection
*not with an AR15 they can’t
Jim, Foolish Literalist
@Origuy: It came up yesterday. Geminid looked up Feinstein’s fund-raising, and she’s not. And the gossip is that Schiff talked to DiFi and she gave him her “blessing”, which isn’t an endorsement but sure isn’t a “Step back, son!”. Also: (Jan 11)
All this balloon talk takes me to another dimension.
A Fifth Dimension.
@YY_Sima Qian: One possiblity that occurs to me is that someone down the chain of command launched this balloon without the specific approval of higher levels. A “SNAFU” so to speak.
That seems more likely than a decision by top officials. Like you say, that would be extraordinarily stupid at this time. Maybe this was a more ordinarily stupid decision made at a lower level.
@Origuy: I don’t think Senator Feinstein needs help to decide. Ms. Pelosi was likely just being courteous.
Sister Golden Bear
Reposting from the mostly dead thread downstairs….
ethnicLGB, and especially T, cleansing news:
– Ron DeSantis has filed a complaint against the Orlando Philharmonic and stripped its liquor license for hosting “A Drag Queen Christmas.” They claim it was a felony violation. They are weaponizing the state to eliminate queer existence. Yes, really.
– Arizona bill, SB1698, would ban “dressing in clothes other than your assigned gender” while “singing, dancing, and monologuing” in public. 15 year jail sentences and sex offender registry.
South Dakota’s House passed a ban on gender affirming care for minors by a 60-10 vote yesterday. Wyoming and West – — Virginia did the same thing. (Apologies if I mentioned this in yesterday post, there’s so many anti-trans bills (250+ this year alone) that it’s hard to keep track of them all.)- The NC Senate Rules Committee will be holding a meeting discussing SB49 (the “Don’t Say Gay” bill) on Monday at 5:30 p.m. Voices in opposition are desperately needed.
– Not sure how recently this occurred, but a trans woman was denied a gender marker change on her driver’s license, despite having her gender change recognized by the Social Security Administration (which all other government agencies are supposed to reference). She went outside and took her top off, was arrested by police for an indecent exposure charge that only applies to women and then placed in a men’s jail. It’s the perfect encapsulation of society.
But definitely some good news:
– The very first drag ban to pass a state house in the United States has been gutted!. All instances of “drag” were removed from Arkansas SB43. It would have banned “anyone exhibiting a gender identity different from their assigned gender at birth” from performing in any way that any person could deem “prurient”—including according to supporter, the very act of drag queens reading to kids at story hours—and likely would’ve banned Pride celebrations.
– A trans protective bill that protects abortion access and access to gender affirming care passed through committee in New Mexico.
– The WA State Senate passed SSB 5028 which would allow, among other things, for anyone changing their name to match their gender identity/expression to have their petition sealed so their deadname will not be a public record.
As far as fun facts, here’s a quick a Twitter thread with examples of how trans people have existed for thousands of years in cultures all around the globe.
China now claiming it’s a delivery balloon for authentic Sichuan take-out.
@JPL: A guy here who works at the Street Department was hit by a stray bullet from a domestic dispute while he was working on his car in his driveway. He was seriously injured.
@HumboldtBlue: Or makes me think of diet British bread ads from the 70s
@WaterGirl: That’s an amazing list! I forgot we had it.
Delivering to only the finest establishments.
@Baud: @JPL: it isn’t just CNN, look at the WaPo over the last few days. They’re going commie-bananas.
And maybe I’m being paranoid, but I don’t see how this could have got the traction it has without at least tacit support from the administration. I mean, there could have been a lot of “naw mang weather balloon off course happens all the time jet streams polar vortex blah blah blah,” but instead we get “the White House has decided NOT to SHOOT DOWN the CHINESE SPY BALLOON because of the GRAVE DANGER it could pose.” And that does make me wonder why.
@Geminid: The decision to launch the mission is most probably not at Xi or the Central Military Commission level. The US DoD has said there have been several similar intrusions in the past over CONUS, going back at least to the Trump Administration, so the Chinese military might have considered it “routine”. (Just like the CIA/USAF once thought U-2 overflights of the USSR was “routine”, until Gary Powers.) The prior intrusions had not even drawn any public protest from the US, or any leaks to media, which under the recent & current geopolitical tensions suggests to me a modus vivendi between China & the US on the matter of aircraft surveillance into each other’s sovereign air spaces. (The two countries have not wasted any opportunity to slap each other over the past several years, can’t imagine either passing up the chance to be truly indignant in face of intrusion into sovereign air space. However, given the capabilities of modern satellites, sending & tolerating airborne intrusions into sovereign air spaces are dangerously naive/idiotic.)
On this instance, Murphy intervened & the balloon was spotted by civilians. It also lingered, which could be deliberate or caused by Murphy (unexpected conditions in the stratosphere?). Now the Biden Administration has to publicize the incident & respond to the domestic outrage (genuine or fake).
That is why I call them stupid games. Governments or elements of governments consistently overestimate their ability to control events & underestimate Murphy’s ability to influence them. They skirt ever closer to the edge on risk taking & provocation, eating away at the margins of geopolitical safety. Until Murphy does intervene & everyone find themselves in a fine mess.
@bbleh: that’s a good point
She’s gonna shoot her eye out.
Ha. Took me a moment to process that cartoon. But yeah. Good Chinese take-out is pretty much on a par with the finest cuisine.
And dammit, now I’m hankering for some lo mein and a couple of egg rolls.
Jim, Foolish Literalist
Costa Rica, according to other tweets, and some people saying a third one over Toronto.
RW tweeters saying this confirms that balloons are an act of war, which I don’t quite follow.
@Jim, Foolish Literalist:
Ok, now it’s getting weird.
Hit the fricking thing with a small EMP bomb, and then let the stupid thing drag the ground, then take it apart so that we know everything that the Chinese know about the stupid thing. And if anybody is telling me that they can’t get an EMP bomb on something that big, they’re nuts.
@bbleh: Once the intrusion was publicized, it was untenable for the Biden Administration to pretend it is a Chinese weather balloon, particularly if China had admitted in private that a it is a surveillance balloon. There are GOP friendly elements (or elements that are politically neutral but very much bent on accelerating to a new Cold War w/ China) in the bureaucracy that would have leaked to the press & it would be much worse politically for Biden.
Why did the Biden Administration claim that Biden wanted the balloon shot down & the DoD demurred? Perhaps to deflect the inevitable hectoring from the GOP & MSM for “being weak” on China. I have noted my disagreements w/ the substance of Biden’s China policy & lack of a coherent China strategy. However, 2 years in the Biden team has not even tried to pick the low hanging fruits that would have helped to stabilized the relationship, the self-harming actions that the Trump team took at the end of its term: reopening the consulates in Houston & Chengdu, restarting the Peace Corps & Fulbright Scholarship programs in China, reach a deal to allow each other’s reporters back in each other’s countries, etc. I think the Biden team has been worried about domestic politics, but the Sino-US relationship is far too consequential to allow domestic politics this much influence. No matter what the Biden team does, the GOP will always accuse it of being “weak on China”, it’s the GOP’s 2024 platform.
@Sister Golden Bear: Trans people since forever.
I probably mentioned this ten years ago. My older sister is really into Chinese culture and built an academic career and profession on it. In the mid 1980s she married a Chinese guy. A couple of years later they got his sister over. His sister knew no English and went to English as a Foreign Language classes near San Francisco.
The teacher was trans. My sister thought his sister from prudish Communist China would be horrified. She wasn’t the least bit fazed. “Transitions between genders is common throughout Chinese mythology. It is part of our historic culture.”
Jim, Foolish Literalist
@Jim, Foolish Literalist:
I assumed we knew where every balloon in the sky is.
Never seen that one.
@Jim, Foolish Literalist: Maybe these are sophisticated weather monitoring balloons after all (at least the one over Costa Rica). Can’t imagine what China wants to see in Latin America that its spy satellites can’t tell them.
In general, intrusion by aircraft w/ military/intelligence purposes into some else’s sovereign air space is a very serious provocation. They have resulted in shoot downs during the Cold War. Which makes the lack of public protest from the US for past intrusions very intriguing.
@YY_Sima Qian: I hope the Biden camp at some point agrees with you. Void here is not a good idea.
@YY_Sima Qian: No one told the public, The non-public thought it was not worth a confrontation. Maybe this balloon publicity might make both sides refocus.
@YY_Sima Qian: agree that “once the intrusion was publicized” it became an International Incident. But my point is, why did it become publicized as such in the first place? An amateur astronomer detects a balloon with instrumentation … and? Whence the leap to CHINESE SPY BALLOON? I have a lot of trouble believing that, absent confirmation from US sources, and even more so if US sources had denied it, even the sensation-hungry media would have run with CHINESE SPY BALLOON on the basis of assertions by medium-level Chinese sources. “Naw mang, weather balloon. And yeah they’re saying it’s a spy balloon. Hell, they’ll say they’ve got thermostats spying on you. And some Republicans will even believe it!” At most the media would run with “mystery balloon spotted.”
If I had to advance a hypothesis, it would be that they are indeed hearing what I think I’m seeing in your comment, and they’ve chosen this episode to pick a (carefully calibrated low-level) fight with the Chinese leadership. Note that Blinken has either postponed or canceled his trip (not really clear to me). I mean, even *IF* they had acknowledged the CHINESE SPY BALLOON as a thing but they wanted the trip to go ahead, they’d be offering the usual “oh come on, have you heard of satellites?”
If true, then why now? But it’s only a hypothesis.
Jim, Foolish Literalist
That’s the part that confused me, but what I know about this kind of stuff is nothing
@sab: The prudishness toward LGBT were introduced by Christian missionaries into China. The Communists then adopted that prudishness to cast LGBT as “bourgeoise” decadence, grouped w/ drug addiction & “treated” the same way. Things are much more relaxed now, but China is still at the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” stage in terms of LGBT environment. Government & society generally does not persecute LGBTs in the way the GOP & religious conservatives in the US do, but they still suffer discrimination. LGBT activism is not tolerated by the CCP regime.
Traditionally, as long as one fulfills the all important obligation of continuing the family line, what one otherwise does in the bedroom is one’s own business.
@brantl: What is an EMP bomb?
Electro magnetic pulse. We really need Cheryl Rofer here, she has some thoughts on EMPs.
@bbleh: It got publicized as such when people in a passenger jet spotted it and posted it to social media.
My understanding is the US govt knew it was there, knew it was a military satellite, was talking to China about it on the dl. But once it was public, the feds had to acknowledge it.
I mean, it’s not a weather balloon. You can see the solar array and communications equipment on it. You don’t put those on weather balloons.
Now, it might well be that China didn’t intend to fly over the US. I actually think that’s likely – because it’s incredibly dumb to do a land overflight with something this easy to spot. China isn’t normally this stupid.
@Old School: Cocaine is a hell of a drug.
@YY_Sima Qian: Maybe the military told Biden there was no need to shoot the balloon down over land when we can shoot it down over water, off the North Carolina coast. The continental shelf extends over a hundred miles there. The Navy has made far more difficult recoveries than that balloon would entail. And the Norfolk Naval base is close by.
I guess we’ll see when the balloon crosses the shore line.
@HumboldtBlue: Ok then. I’ve heard of them. Seems like a lot of trouble to go through if we have an air launched or ship launched missile that could go right through the balloon. We ought to.
David 🌈☘The Establishment☘🌈 Koch
Dump thought the Chinese balloons were a new type of breast implants
@Geminid: It disrupts electronic equipment. It’s not that it’s not a thing, but it’s pretty much a science fiction thing.
A nuke does a decent bit of EMP damage. It’s not easy to replicate that magnitude of pulse though. Similar effects for spacecraft with a solar storm. There’s an image of a pulse destroying all electronic equipment. That’s not a thing.
If the Chinese wanted to destroy Nebraska as Fox News is scaremongering about, they’d put a nuke in the balloon, which they wouldn’t do because they’d launch an ICBM, which they have. These people fail basic critical thinking. Why on earth would they use a balloon to spread a virus over Nebraska when you could send a tourist on United to do that and probably never get caught. And now they’re worried about a virus – the same people who refused to wear a mask when an actual virus showed up?
Odds are this is a surveillance platform to collect information that is difficult to acquire from space. Odds are it’s not supposed to be over the US – not that they US shouldn’t be pissed that it *is*.
Sister Golden Bear
@Geminid: An over-water shoot down seems plausible. Montana may be lightly populated, but there’s a lot of hardware hanging off the balloon. Plus as you said, recovering it would be far easier than Montana in the winter.
Plus while the balloon is spying on us, we’re spying on it. Since apparently there’s been other incidents, the military may have decided it’s more useful to study it and develop counter-measures for future incursions. Not sure any of the electronic warfare planes can fly high enough to jam it, but if so, I’m sure they’re preventing it from phoning home.
@Geminid: We shot down an orbiting satellite from an F-15. That was 40 years ago. Shooting this down is trivial. Controlling where it lands isn’t.
@bbleh: As I said, the natsec bureaucracy knows that it is a Chinese surveillance balloon, China had admitted as much in private (according to administration officials to MSM). Civilians have taken their lower powered telescopes to take photos of the balloon, showing the extensive solar panels, & the pics are on MSM.
At this point, the Biden Administration has to explain to the public what they think it is. Remember there are natsec bureaucrats that are decidedly unfriendly to Dems, & there are natsec bureaucrats who want to push things along toward a new Cold War. If the Biden Administration publicly claims that the balloon is not Chinese, or that it is a Chinese weather balloon, I fully expect someone from the two aforementioned groups will leak to the press that it is actually a Chinese surveillance balloon, & it would have been extremely damaging to the Administration. Such subterfuge exposed would have cemented in many voters’ minds that Biden & Ds “sold out” to China. No, on this point the Administration had to be truthful.
Intrusion into sovereign air space is (or should be) a serious provocation. (Begs the questions of why no public protest for past intrusions.) As soon as it was publicized, there would have been inevitable questions why not shoot it down, as the US is fully justified to do, rather than allowing it to continue its surveillance mission. I think the Biden Administration publicized that Biden had requested a shoot down, only for the DoD to demur, to precisely head off such questions.
Don’t overthink that there is some carefully gamed out plan on either side. It is far more likely that Murphy made his presence felt once again & the parties (mainly the US in this case) are buffeted by nationalists/populist passions.
That is why they are stupid games to play, & will win stupid prizes.
@Martin: wait what? My understanding is, it’s up at 80,000 feet or more, twice the altitude of even high-flying passenger jets. What could they have seen? A balloon with solar panels and some instrumentation. I don’t buy it.
Not trying to sound like a chemtrails! crazy here, but I just don’t see it.
Since the Pentagon has now publicized that there have been past surveillance balloon intrusions over Alaska, Hawaii & CONUS, I think China fully intended for it to fly over land. What is strange is the lack of public US protest (let alone shoot downs) over past intrusions. That suggests a modus vivendi where the US has also been sending unmanned surveillance aircraft over Chinese sovereign airspace. If there was such a modus vivendi, it was/is dangerously naive/idiotic.
@Sister Golden Bear: They wouldn’t need to. I can’t imagine jamming this this is hard. You have clear line of sight. I think they put out about 10kW, and this think might have 1kW of solar at best. Even if they’re 30k feet below it, I’m guessing they can overpower the signal this puts out pretty easily.
@Martin: Also you don’t spread a virus from 80,000 feet. Chem weapons aren’t exactly precision, and bioweapons even less so, and to talk of ANY kind of targeting of that sort of weapon from even 10,000 feet is absurd.
Jim, Foolish Literalist
Jim Himes, new ranking Dem on the House Intel Cmtee, sounding very sure of himself in saying, “we may own this technology in a few days”
@brantl: EMP might destroy the electronics if it is not hardened, but would not make the balloon fall. Even a small EMP blast will also risk greater damage than the balloon falling out of the sky (think of the risk to aircraft & spacecraft in the vicinity).
Melinda Dillon, who received supporting Oscar nominations for her turns in Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Absence of Malice and portrayed the doting mom in the holiday perennial A Christmas Story, died Jan. 9, her family announced. She was 83.
@bbleh: You can see it from the ground. It’s *big*.
My understanding is that the folks in the aircraft saw *something* and posted it, wondering what it was. Then people start looking. Binoculars come out, your backyard telescope – which are now pretty fucking good with image stabilization and all that.
Consider that 80,000 feet is 15 miles. You can usually spot aircraft coming in 15 miles from an airport without much trouble, especially in the right light conditions. And this is a lot bigger than a 737. I mean, under the right conditions you can not only see the ISS, you can resolve its orientation.
@Martin: Yeah, not sure why soft kill option have not been discussed. Perhaps it has been done already (& on previous occasions, too), but one cannot be entirely sure whether it worked.
@Martin: I understand that controlling where the balloon lands is not possible. And whatever we shoot it down with will come down also. I was saying that a missile seemed a simpler way of shooting down the plane than using an EMP device.
Thats why I said we might wait for the balloon to get over coastal waters to shoot it down, and then let the Navy pick it up. Norfolk Naval base is fairly close by.
Or maybe we’ll let it go on its merry way.
Pre-programmed to set down in Lakehurst, NJ?
Has no one made the RED DAWN connection?
It wasn’t Russian paratroops coming in disguised as commercial airliners that took over our country and all its major cities in the heartland…it was CHINESE BALLOON PARATROOPS DROPPING IN FROM 80,000 FEET!
lemme hear ya now: WOLVERINEEEEEEEEEEEEEEES!!!!1!
@YY_Sima Qian: I guess if the theory is that reputable *US* sources leaked it — ie, Blob warmongering — and it spiraled out of control before the WH could smother it, then I might buy it. Sh!t does happen.
But I’ll still maintain a brief for the case that the WH ain’t entirely uncomfortable with the situation. There has been more than a little chatter that they’ve been looking to push on China, and this may have turned out to be an opportunity rather than a problem. Nice and containable, not too scary, “well duh we could shoot it down but it’s not a big problem and we wouldn’t want something to come crashing down in eastern Montana.” And now we can take the high road and “postpone” a visit from the SoS, yadda yadda.
Sorry, but the whole episode smells of contrivance. I mean, CNN has been on about it for DAYS…
@YY_Sima Qian: The way the US would deploy this is to put surveillance just outside of their territorial space. At 100,000 feet you get line of sight to about 400 miles. So one sitting just offshore Los Angeles could see Phoenix.
The US has invested a lot in being able to do all of this from space, because it solves a LOT of problems, but it’s also a big investment. If you want to do it from low orbit, you need a lot of satellites. If you want to do from higher, you need fewer, but they need to be much more advanced. The spy satellites we were putting up in the 80s were functionally similar to the Hubble telescope. It’s not a small undertaking even for China who have pretty capable space access. Some kind of imaging is really hard. Thermal imaging which is really useful for determining military uses is very hard to do from space, so there are still some benefits from an atmospheric tool.
Jim, Foolish Literalist
sounds like this guy, who I can only imagine testifying in a congressional hearing, wants to separate himself from the chain of custody
@Martin: and then? “Sophisticated Real-Time High-Level Atmospheric Sampling And Analysis Package Deployed Over Northern Hemisphere” or whatever. “We prefer not to publicize our information-gathering technology,” said a NOAA scientist, “because they’re so easily subject to misinterpretation.”
Now indeed if, as other commenters have suggested, it wasn’t just random amateurs with optical instruments, but also bureaucratic sources with an agenda, I can see that a story could break down. But there was never any other story at all that I saw
And it’s been top of the news for CNN and WaPo for DAYS. Sorry but wtf?
Mr. Bemused Senior
@NotMax: I couldn’t decide between Orange Alert and the Golden Age of Ballooning. But you win the thread as far as I am concerned for Chief Wild Eagle.
Chacal Charles Calthrop
@WaterGirl: can you make this post some kind of sidebar link, or something? Because this collection should not be lost in a Friday night thread.
@Sister Golden Bear: This annoys me on a personal level (not as personal as yours, of course). I have virtually no interest in drag as an art form, etc., but now I need to seek it out and support it because fuck the haters.
@Martin: Yeah, but apparently China wanted to fly over the ICBM silo fields in Montana. Can’t see that off the Pacific Coast.
If the US has not been overlying China w/ surveillance drones, but China has been flying over the US (even Alaska & Hawaii) w/ surveillance balloons, I would have expected the US loudly protest & present as further evidence of Chinese aggression (& they would be right), given the geopolitical rivalry on the verge of Cold War. But it has been silence until now, after the public has found out. There is a much deeper story here that is not yet being investigated.
@bbleh: The US wouldn’t publicize it, because that doesn’t help. It’s a diplomatic incident, and they probably planned Blinken to handle it on his trip. Surely we let China know our objection.
It’s never the case that a diplomatic incident that goes public is *easier* to solve. It’s always harder. Now it’s Biden is weak. It’s terrorism. etc. Any effort to treat it as what it *actually* is has gone out the window and each nation has to respond to what people are projecting it to be. CNN is covering it because it’s novel, it’s weird. The feds are postponing Blinkens trip not to respond to China, but to the US public who are freaking out over a pretty unremarkable thing. FFS, Gary Powers was shot down in a U-2 during a USSR overflight going from Pakistan to Norway. This is not anyone’s first rodeo on this kind of stuff. A lot of the intention of the SR-71 was to fly along a nations border and use side-imaging to look into sites. Officially, the SR-71 and YF-12 never flow over Soviet airspace, just near it. (A little hard to believe given how big the turning radius of the plane was at speed) but they were just fancy versions of what this thing likely is.
Are any of these balloons green?
Not necessarily contradictory to what I have been saying. The Biden Administration is clearly trying to make the best of the situation, too. I don’t think the Administration has been looking for an excuse to postpone Blinken’s trip (why send him in the 1st place). However, given the current domestic outcry, the Biden team perhaps felt a performative postponement to be a relatively low risk play both to assuage the domestic critics (not possible w/ the GOP) & to convey displeasure to China.
As long as the trip is not significantly delayed, it is low risk. However, as I mentioned before, Kevin McCarthy is scheduled to visit Taiwan in Mar. or Apr. China will react angrily to that visit in any case, but I fully expect McCarthy to say some particularly provocative things just to score domestic political points, which will significantly raise tensions further. If the Blinken trip has not happened by then, it will likely be delayed further. In fact, a Blinken trip to China is necessary now to help manage the inevitable fallout from McCarthy’s visit. (& not just fallout w/ China & Taiwan, but also in the region. Most nations in the Asia Pacific thought Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan in Aug. was unnecessarily provocative & destabilizing, even if many of them also though China deliberately overreacted w/ military exercises, which were also unnecessarily provocative & destabilizing. No one in the region is eager for another round.)
As for the media coverage. It is entirely predictable. Intrusions by military/surveillance aircraft into sovereign airspace is a serious provocation. As long as the balloon is up there, it will be in the news. Being in the new is not contrived. A lot of the rhetoric concerning the topic, especially from the GOP, is contrived.
@YY_Sima Qian: I don’t think we know *what* China intended. Maybe it’s to overfly the missile site there, but the most they could do is try and determine how many of those are active. I don’t think the US and China have a NPT that allows verification, so I don’t think there are any inspections of these sites that China could instead rely on (and v/v).
But I suspect they didn’t intend to overfly. It’s a really stupid thing to do. It sounds like the previous incursions were pretty minor – not blasting over fucking Missouri which is going to light up every ATC in the US. Not that it gets them off the hook – there are no accidents. They’re gonna have to own it no matter their intention.
@Martin: We don’t know that the prior overflights where minor, just that some of them were over CONUS & they “did not linger”.
I expect the Biden Administration to have quietly registered their protest to China on the 1st couple of instances. As the overflights kept happening, I would have expected the Biden Administration to raise a public stink to get China to cease & desist. I doubt China would want to get into a serious confrontation w/ the US over this. Since none of that happened, I think there is a deeper story here.
@Chacal Charles Calthrop: totally agree
David ⛄ 🎅The Establishment🎄 🦌 🕎 Koch
I realize people are dismissing this incident as a bunch of hot air, Biden will be forced to establish a Balloon Force branch of the military.
We can not let a balloon-gap endanger our birthday parties.
@Chacal Charles Calthrop: Okay, I added them under the Calling All Jackals menu.
@WaterGirl: Thank you! These are truly classics!