US downs Chinese balloon over ocean, moves to recover debris
(NewsNation) — The United States has downed a Chinese balloon off the Carolina coast and debris from it is now being recovered.
The balloon, which the Pentagon said was being used by China for surveillance, was shot down by a U.S. aircraft at around 2:05 p.m. EST, a military intelligence source told NewsNation.
Earlier that day, the U.S. temporarily restricted airspace over the area in preparation for the operation.
On Twitter, the Federal Aviation Administration said it paused departures and arrivals to airports in the Carolinas — Wilmington, Myrtle Beach International and Charleston International — “to support the Department of Defense in a national security effort.”
The FAA, warning of delays because of the flight restrictions, rerouted air traffic from the area.
President Joe Biden said earlier Saturday that officials were “going to take care” of the balloon that was floating above the U.S. for days now.
At the time, four U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Associated Press the Biden administration considered a plan to shoot down the balloon by bringing it down once it is above the Atlantic Ocean, where the remnants could potentially be recovered.
China claims the balloon was just a weather research “airship” that was blown off course — but the Pentagon has rejected that. Defense officials say the balloon was, indeed, for surveillance.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was originally supposed to go to Beijing on Sunday for talks aimed at reducing tensions between the United States and China. This was abruptly canceled in light of the balloon.
China downplayed this cancellation in a statement Saturday morning.
“In actuality, the U.S. and China have never announced any visit, the U.S. making any such announcement is their own business, and we respect that,” China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.
Some conservatives, including former President Donald Trump, had suggested shooting it down earlier. However, Biden, on the advice of his defense team, had previously chosen not to do so because of the danger falling debris could pose to residents on the ground.
“Currently, we assess that this balloon has limited additive value from an intelligence collective collection perspective,” an official from the Department of Defense said in a previous statement. “But we are taking steps, nevertheless, to protect against foreign intelligence collection of sensitive information.”
However, retired Maj. Gen. Larry Stutzriem, director of research for the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies, made the case to NewsNation’s Leland Vittert that the alleged Chinese spy balloon is so close to land, it’s capturing much clearer images than a satellite ever could.
“There was a statement out of the Pentagon about, ‘Hey, the Chinese could get all this by satellite.’ Well, no. The satellites are up about 350 miles,” he said. “This thing’s around 12 miles, and so you can see cat whiskers from that balloon if it’s instrumented correctly.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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