What Was China Trying To Accomplish With The Spy Balloon? National Security Experts Weigh In
Chinese President Xi Jinping, also general secretary of the Communist Party of China CPC Central Committee and chairman of the Central Military Commission, addresses the opening of a training session for young and middle-aged officials at the Party School of the CPC Central Committee National Academy of Governance, Sept. 1, 2021.
Shen Hong/Xinhua via Getty Images

National security experts believe the Chinese spy balloon which recently traversed the continental United States was a curveball for officials charged with guarding military secrets and a test for American responses to unconventional threats.

Pentagon spokesperson Brigadier General Pat Ryder announced on Thursday that the military observed “a high altitude surveillance balloon” above the nation. The vessel crossed Montana, the home of several defense assets and missile silos, then traveled over states such as Kansas and Missouri before the object was shot down off the coast of the Carolinas.

The Biden administration received backlash for neglecting to down the balloon over the Aleutian Islands or Montana, where critics say threats from falling debris would have been minimized. Some reports indicated that the hesitancy to take out the asset came because Secretary of State Antony Blinken was expected to make a diplomatic trip to China that was later postponed.

Bryan Clark, the director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Defense Concepts and Technology, told The Daily Wire that the balloon was “not a direct threat” but could have enabled China to “obtain close-up visual imagery from different angles” than its low earth orbit satellites.

“That could improve China’s ability to target U.S. missile silos and better understand the construction and layout of U.S. bomber bases in places like Montana and North Dakota where the balloon is flying,” he said. “It could have obtained signals intelligence by listening in on U.S. military radio and radar signals. Because satellite flyovers are known and predictable, U.S. forces avoid transmitting sensitive signals during those windows, but the balloon can fly an unpredictable route and show up unexpectedly.”

The balloon could have also been “a test of U.S. air surveillance and response to less obvious threats,” added Clark, who previously conducted studies on behalf of DARPA and the Office of the Secretary of Defense. “Russian bombers and surveillance aircraft regularly test U.S. responses in the high north, but unarmed uncrewed aircraft like this balloon present a situation U.S. air forces may not have a well-practiced response for.”

Lawmakers were surprised that the balloon was allowed to traverse portions of the country hosting sensitive military assets. Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) said in a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin that the incident creates “significant concern” and called for a full security briefing to discuss the incident.

Victoria Coates, a senior research fellow for the Heritage Foundation’s Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, told The Daily Wire that the surveillance balloon is similar to the national security threats presented by the social media platform TikTok, which is owned by a Chinese company. She concurred that China has “more sophisticated satellite options for gathering information” but said that it could be “developing a redundant system” with less advanced technology to guarantee more steady information flows.

“Make no mistake about it, this violation of U.S. sovereignty on the eve of Secretary Blinken’s scheduled trip to China was not only about surveillance, it was also about testing whether or not the Biden administration would respond strongly and risk the diplomatic engagement,” she remarked. “Unfortunately, until the story blew up in the news they clearly prioritized keeping the trip over defending the national security of the United States, and even though it’s been delayed, Secretary Blinken said in his statement he expects it to be rescheduled and expressed his commitment to diplomacy.”

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