The Pentagon spotted a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon traveling over the continental United States, a senior defense official said on Thursday.
Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder said that the U.S. government said the agency was “confident” that the balloon that they have been tracking for several days was sent by the Chinese government to collect sensitive information.
“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,” Ryder said.
“We are confident that this high-altitude surveillance balloon belongs to the [People’s Republic of China],” the senior defense official said. “Instances of this activity have been observed over the past several years, including prior to this administration.”
The U.S. government has reached out to the Chinese government through the Chinese embassy in Washington, D.C. and the U.S. diplomatic mission in China to discuss the issue, Ryder added.
The Pentagon has decided against shooting down the balloon after senior military leaders recommended “not to take kinetic action due to the risk to safety and security of people on the ground from the possible debris field.
“Currently, we assess that this balloon has limited additive value from an intelligence collection perspective. But we are taking steps nevertheless to protect against foreign intelligence collection of sensitive information,” a senior defense official said.
The Pentagon’s announcement comes days before Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to travel to China.