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Chinese spy balloon continues to fly over the country

Pentagon spokesman General Pat Ryder confirmed that the surveillance device will remain over U.S. territory for "a few more days." It is headed east.

globo espía chino,EEUU

(Captura de video -Twitter/@bennyjohnson)

The Pentagon confirmed Friday that the Chinese spy balloon continues to fly over "the central continental United States" and is moving eastward. It was reported yesterday to have been spotted over Montana, in the northwestern region of the country.

Pentagon spokesman General Pat Ryder said in a news conference that the balloon is flying at 6,000 feet above the ground and that the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) is tracking its movements. He also stated that it will continue to fly over the U.S. territory for "a few days."

This balloon was discovered just hours before Secretary of State Antony Blinken was set to depart for China on an official visit. After learning of the incident, Blinken postponed his visit to Beijing.

The device is also reportedly being "actively" tracked by Canada, as it would also have flown over the western part of the U.S.'s northern neighbor.

Tension between Washington and Beijing

In connection with the volatile and unrelenting tension between Washington and Beijing, the Pentagon had previously detected the surveillance balloon without officially specifying its origin. Ryder stated hours earlier:

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.

This morning, a senior defense official claimed that the Biden administration was aware that the Chinese communist regime was responsible for the device. China claimed hours later that the drone indeed belongs to them and stated that it is a meteorological research "airship" that suffered a malfunction and deviated from its route.

The Army did not shoot it down

The Pentagon's initial response was to deploy several fighters. General Ryder said that although shooting down the spy drone was considered, it was not done because of the potential risks:

You did see reports yesterday of a ground stop at Billings airport, and the mobilization of a number of assets including F 22s ... in the event that a decision was made to bring this down while it was over Montana. So we wanted to make sure we were coordinating with civil authorities to empty out the airspace around that potential area. ... It was the judgment of our military commanders that we didn't drive the risk down low enough that we didn't take the shot. 

Hours later, Ryder stated that it was concluded "that it does not pose a risk to people on the ground as it is traversing the continental United States."

What is known is where the surveillance balloon was flying: in Montana. Knowing that nuclear weapons were being stored in the Treasure State, Republican Sen. Steve Daines sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin demanding a report due to the serious nature of the matter:

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. ... Montana plays a vital national security role by housing nuclear missile silos at Malmstrom AFB. 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.

"China's brazen disregard for U.S. sovereignty”

This development comes just hours before Secretary of State Antony Blinken's departure for China. Kevin McCarthy, speaker of the House of Representatives, called for an urgent meeting of the "Gang of Eight," a team of legislators in charge of reviewing intelligence matters, to address the matter.

Through social media, McCarthy pointed directly to China being behind the surveillance balloon:

China’s brazen disregard for U.S. sovereignty is a destabilizing action that must be addressed, and President Biden cannot be silent. I am requesting a Gang of Eight briefing.

While McCarthy did not say whether he felt it should have been shot down, other Republican lawmakers expressed a different view. Senator Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) accused the Pentagon of failing to respond adequately against the surveillance balloon:

Information strongly suggests the Department failed to act with urgency in responding to this airspace incursion by a high-altitude surveillance balloon. No incursion should be ignored, and should be dealt with appropriately.

Marjorie Taylor Greene, representative from Georgia, called for the destruction of the drone "immediately." On the other hand, Marco Rubio, senator from Florida, also described China's obsession with spying on the United States as “brazen.”

It was not only the Republican side that denounced the communist regime in Beijing. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), co-leader of the newly constituted Commission on China, noted:

Coming only days before Secretary Blinken’s trip to the PRC … it also makes clear that the CCP’s recent diplomatic overtures do not represent a substantive change in policy.