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Chinese spy balloon now over central US; ‘Look up in the sky,’ Pentagon says

Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Patrick S. Ryder holds a press briefing, the Pentagon, Washington, D.C., Jan. 17, 2023. (DoD photo by Lisa Ferdinando)
February 03, 2023

The suspected Chinese spy balloon being tracked by the Pentagon is now moving east over the center of the continental United States.

The Pentagon announced on Thursday evening that for days it has been tracking a Chinese surveillance balloon flying over the U.S. collecting information. The balloon flew over Montana, home to some nuclear missile silos, but President Joe Biden’s administration decided it was too risky to try shooting it down.

At a press conference Friday, Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said the balloon is now 60,000 feet above somewhere in the central U.S. and moving east, but declined to share any more details on its location. 

Pressed multiple times for specifics, he said he wouldn’t “get into an hour-by-hour location of the balloon,” adding, “The public certainly has the ability to look up in the sky and see where the balloon is.”

He said the balloon is maneuverable, not simply drifting on the wind. He confirmed that the balloon had “changed its course” at some point, but didn’t clarify when, in what direction, or how it may be powered. 

Asked how long the suspected spy balloon could loiter over the U.S., Ryder said “we assess that it’ll probably be over the United States for a few days, but we’ll continue to monitor.”

He reiterated that “we know that it’s a surveillance balloon,” but didn’t clarify how that is known, countering China’s Friday claim that it’s a civilian meteorological research aircraft that went astray.

The Pentagon’s initial announcement said “this kind of balloon activity” has happened before in previous years. Ryder said at the press conference that details on previous incidents are classified, but confirmed there have been other incidents “where balloons did come close to or cross over U.S. territory.”

“What makes this different is the duration and the length of which it has been over U.S. territory,” he added.