ANALYSIS – Joe Biden’s Chinese spy balloon fiasco keeps getting worse. As I noted earlier, almost all of the Biden spin about the Chinese balloon that spent eight long days surveilling military and strategic sites across the United States, was misleading or outright false.
Contrary to the furious pro-Biden spin, the 200ft tall balloon with a jetliner-sized surveillance package strapped to it, did pose an intelligence and military threat.
It could also have been shot down much earlier without undue risk to those on the ground – especially since it first cruised over the Aleutian Islands and parts of Alaska.
And no, President Trump did not know or ignore prior Chinese balloon incursions when he was in office.
Reports of brief crossings of Chinese balloons over peripheral parts of the U.S., like Florida, or U.S. territories far from the continental U.S. like Guam, did not surface until well after Trump left office.
Apparently, the Pentagon didn’t detect those extremely brief forays at the time, displaying a major gap in our surveillance capabilities.
But this incursion was of a whole different scope and scale.
I earlier argued that the primary goal of this latest extended cross-country balloon incursion for China was political.
It was a clear test. What would Biden and the U.S. military do? And their answer was, basically nothing until after the airship completed its 8-day surveillance mission.
However, an added, and more dangerous goal was potentially to test how to use a stratospheric balloon to employ a small nuclear device at an extremely high altitude to produce a massive electromagnetic pulse (EMP) that would fry communications, power networks and almost all electronics across much of the United States.
For more on that see my previous piece.
But let’s return to the more mundane intelligence-gathering functions of this airship.
While the Biden spinners rushed to say that the balloon could not gather intel not already gained by Chinese satellites in low earth orbit, this simply ignorant, and untrue.
One left-leaning intelligence news site, SpyTalk, edited by the elderly Jeff Stein, wrote in an almost knee-jerk fashion without waiting for more facts: “Pssst: Chinese Satellite Not a Threat. Experts say news media hysteria over the floating orb not at all warranted.”
Stein then brought in his usual suspects to buttress his pro-Biden spin.
The liberal Stein quoted one of his regular minions, Paul Cobaugh, a left-leaning retired Army information operations specialist with no intelligence or technology background, as saying we have a “variety of capabilities to render it unusable or mitigate the threat.”
This is partly true. We do have means to mitigate the threat.
A senior U.S. defense official said on Feb. 2 that when the Chinese balloon was detected near Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana, home of the 341st strategic intercontinental ballistic missile wing, the Pentagon “acted immediately to protect against the collection of secretive information.”
That likely meant shutting off signals-emitting systems and moving secretive aircraft and sensitive equipment under cover or into a hangar.
The Pentagon can take similar steps to stop satellites from gathering intelligence, but it is far more disruptive to have a giant airship looming overhead for long periods of time, as it was in this case.
But SpyTalk’s Cobaugh takes his uninformed argument about the balloon to an extreme, adding with no nuance or uncertainty:
“It’s not a threat.”
SpyTalk didn’t stop there though and added the always predictable, hyper-partisan, Trump-hating former Air Force general and CIA director Michael Hayden to the mix, who totally dismissed the Chinese balloon, and Biden’s inaction, by saying:
“Really, it’s not a big deal.”
Well, this is all just nonsense. It was a very big deal.
Beyond the various risks noted above and in my earlier piece, the ability to vacuum up valuable Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) unavailable to satellites, makes the balloon threat unique.
As Defense News reports:
Experts say balloons loitering at high altitudes can offer some advantages over satellites and drones — or could at least augment their intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities.
Tom Karako, director of the Missile Defense Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank, said one benefit of these balloons is their ability to hover closer to the ground than satellites, and they may be able to intercept communication or electronic signals that orbiting systems can’t.
“It could be thermal infrared, it could be signals intelligence. One of the reasons there are advantages to the suborbital position is you might not be able to do all of that from space,” he told C4ISRNET in a Feb. 3 interview. “There’s a whole lot of value to something other than space.”
Bryan Clark, director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Defense Concepts and Technology, said balloons also offer more persistent, less predictable coverage over an area of interest. While satellites follow a known orbit, airships use wind currents and automated controls to maneuver in different directions. They can also hover in one place for a long period of time.
Clark told C4ISRNET: “With a satellite, you know when they’re going to go overhead, so you stop doing whatever you’re doing for the time it’s overhead. If you have a balloon, it could be out there for days or months, and you’re sort of left either having to stop whatever you’re doing that’s generating intel — or you live with it.”
And there is much more our intelligence experts and agencies can’t yet divulge about this balloon.
Hopefully, once it is fully recovered we can expect a full damage assessment.
So, yes, the high-tech, high-altitude, Chinese surveillance airship that spent 8 days traversing the U.S. was a threat, and the leftist partisan spin machine continues to churn out uninformed nonsense.
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