Pentagon tracks Chinese spy balloon over US

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The Pentagon said Thursday it was tracking a Chinese spy balloon flying high over the United States that appeared to be monitoring highly sensitive nuclear weapons sites.

At President Joe Biden’s request, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and senior military officials considered shooting down the balloon but decided that doing so would endanger too many people on the ground, a senior defense official told reporters.

The official said the balloon flew over the northwestern United States, where there are sensitive airbases and strategic missiles in underground silos.

“Clearly the intent of this balloon is surveillance, and the current flight path takes it over a number of sensitive sites,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

But the Pentagon did not believe it constituted a particularly dangerous intelligence threat.

“We assess that this balloon has limited additive value from an intelligence gathering perspective,” the official said.

The balloon entered US airspace “a couple of days ago,” the official said, adding that US intelligence had been tracking it long before.

After Biden inquired about options for dealing with him, Austin, who was in the Philippines, held talks with senior Pentagon officials on Wednesday.

Fighter planes were flown in to examine the balloon while it was over Montana while the discussions were taking place.

– ‘Seriousness’ of the problem –

But the Pentagon’s decision was “not to take kinetic action because of the risk to the safety of people on the ground from the potential debris field,” the official said.

Pentagon spokesman Pat Ryder confirmed that the balloon was still being tracked in US airspace.

“The balloon is currently traveling at an altitude well above commercial air traffic. It does not pose a military or physical threat to people on the ground,” Ryder said in a statement.

China has sent surveillance balloons over the United States in the past.

However, it has been in US airspace much longer, the senior defense official said.

“However, we are taking measures to protect ourselves against the collection of sensitive information by foreign intelligence,” the official said.

The balloon’s presence comes amid slowly escalating tensions between the United States and China over Taiwan.

China says it is determined to one day reunite the independently ruled island with the mainland, by force if necessary.

But the United States has been arming Taiwan to defend itself, and Biden has said that Washington would help protect Taiwan if China attacked.

Austin was in the Philippines this week to strengthen US defense cooperation, including obtaining broader access for Pentagon forces to Philippine military bases, in a move that highlights the US vision of China as a threat to East Asia.

The defense official said the issue of the balloon had been raised with Beijing officials.

“We have informed them of the seriousness of the matter,” the official said.

“We have made it clear that we will do whatever it takes to protect our people on our own land.”

This story is published from a news agency source with no text changes.

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