US Downs Chinese Spy Balloon

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Micaela Burrow Investigative Reporter, Defense
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The U.S. took down a Chinese spy balloon Saturday afternoon after the craft had traversed the continental U.S. over several days, the Associated Press reported.

The Pentagon was tracking the suspected Chinese spy balloon Saturday as it moved eastward across the Carolinas and over the Atlantic Ocean, The Wall Street Journal and the AP reported, citing officials and specialists familiar with the craft’s flight path. U.S. military jets were seen flying near the balloon and recovery vessels identified in the waters below, as footage of the operation appeared to depict an explosion before the balloon began falling toward the water, according to the AP.

“This afternoon, at the direction of President Biden, U.S. fighter aircraft assigned to U.S. Northern Command successfully brought down the high altitude surveillance balloon launched by and belonging to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) over the water off the coast of South Carolina in U.S. airspace,” Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin told the Daily Caller News Foundation in a statement. (RELATED: Pentagon Confirms Reports Of Second Chinese Spy Balloon)

President Joe Biden had ordered the Pentagon to take action against the balloon, which the U.S. believes was spying on “strategic sites” in the U.S., as soon as it was safe to do so, according to the statement. The Pentagon “developed options to take down the balloon safely over our territorial waters, while closely monitoring its path and intelligence collection activities.”

“We’re gonna take care of it,” President Joe Biden told reporters earlier on Saturday, according to the WSJ.

In the lead up  to the operation, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) ordered a ground stop at airports in Wilmington, N.C., Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Charleston, S.C., blocking off airspace over North and South Carolina “to support the Department of Defense in a national security effort,” it said in a statement.

A U.S. official told the WSJ that destroying the balloon was an active consideration earlier on Saturday. The Pentagon had previously said all options were being considered but attempted to down the balloon in a way that would allow for the collection of as much of the debris as possible, according to the AP.

President Joe Biden was briefed regarding the surveillance balloon and requested military options, but Austin, after convening a meeting of senior leadership Wednesday, recommended against shooting it down to protect the safety of those who may fall in the path of debris. The balloon had a “limited value” to China for intelligence collection did not present a military or physical threat to people on the ground, officials said.

The balloon, which China claimed it intended to use for meteorological purposes only and was blown severely off course, had exhibited a flight pattern covering several “sensitive” U.S. sites and was traveling at an altitude of roughly 60,000 feet, defense officials said. Defense officials said it carried a surveillance payload and in total was the size of three school buses, the AP reported.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken postponed his planned trip to China after the Department of Defense (DOD) disclosed knowledge of the suspected surveillance craft.

The Chinese Embassy to the U.S. did not immediately respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.

Editor’s note: This is a breaking news story and will be updated.

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