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The balloon goes up

The Chinese deployed two spy balloons last week, and one balloon overflew the continental USA until finally the Air Force shot it down.

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Last week saw the most extraordinary event since the War of 1812. A spy balloon, from the People’s Republic of China, overflew the continental United States. That balloon, or its wreckage, is now in the Atlantic Ocean – but the United States government wasn’t even going to tell the people about it until much later, if ever. They only told the people about it after some ordinary civilians spotted it in the skies above Montana. Furthermore we now learn of a second balloon over Latin America, and possibly a third over Canada. Why did the Chinese send them? What are they planning? When (if ever!) was our government going to tell us? And why didn’t certain governors invoke Article I Section 10 Clause 3 and scramble their own Air National Guard to take care of it themselves?

Reportage on the spy balloon comes from The Daily Caller, American Briefing, Reuters, Associated Press, NBC News, Fox News, Just the News, Steadfast Daily, The Trump Train, American Update, America First Report, American Action News, and WorldNetDaily.

The saga of the balloon

The best chronology we have, starts Monday, January 30, based on later sightings of the balloon and their timings. The balloon must have overflown the Aleutian archipelago on Monday and then overflown Canada. Presumably it traversed the Yukon Territory and the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. On Wednesday, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) scrambled jet fighters out of Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada. Their mission: to track the balloon but not to shoot it down. President Biden had decided the military would shoot it down only “when possible.” The rationale for not shooting it down upon detection was not to have pieces of it falling onto anyone’s bean.

Then on Thursday, the first civilians spotted the balloon over Billings, Montana. Then and only then did the Pentagon (through Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder USAF) say anything about it. The general said:

The United States government has detected and is tracking a high-altitude surveillance balloon that is over the continental United States right now. The U.S. government to include NORAD, continues to track and monitor it closely. 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. Instances of this kind of balloon activity have been observed previously over the past several years. Once the balloon was detected, the US government acted immediately to protect against the collection of sensitive information.

Allegedly the balloon had “limited” intelligence gathering capability.

A trip postponed

Secretary of State Anthony Blinken had planned to take a trip to China. But after the first civilian reports broke about the balloon, he put that off. As well he might. The balloon’s track took it near three Strategic Air Command missile sites.

On Friday the Chinese admitted that the balloon belonged to them. But they insisted it was a weather balloon, with limited self-steering ability, that blew off course.

The Chinese side regrets the unintended entry of the airship into US airspace due to force majeure. The Chinese side will continue communicating with the US side and properly handle this unexpected situation caused by force majeure.

Force majeure means any orders one must obey, or any circumstance beyond one’s control. But NBC quoted the Chinese as speaking rather imperiously:

We have noticed relevant reports and are learning about this matter. What I want to emphasize is that speculation and conjecture are not conducive to a proper settlement of the matter before the matter is clarified.

President Trump tersely suggested the government shoot the object down at once. So did Gov. Nikki Haley (R-N.C.).

Several Montana legislators said the same.

Heavens to Murgatroyd – another balloon!

Then came reports of another balloon over Latin America – specifically, Costa Rica. J. D. Rucker at America First Report suggested the original object is one of four things:

  1. Spying and taking lots of pictures, its capabilities far from limited,
  2. Making a dry run for carrying a nuclear device designed to detonate in the stratosphere to create an Electromagnetic Pulse (WorldNetDaily said the same),
  3. Rehearsing a biological warfare attack (though Rucker discounts that), or
  4. Attempting or rehearsing a hack of Amercan communications, command and control.

Then came reports of explosions over the Montana sky. Rep. Zinke first passed on, then discounted those reports.

So did a local TV news host:

On Friday evening, Gov. Greg Gianforte (R-Mont.) complained bitterly to Tucker Carlson that the U.S. government failed to brief him. Not, that is, until the object was “hundreds of miles in.”

Next the object passed over Kansas, and then North Carolina.

By then, Gen. Ryder was not pretending that either balloon was anything but a spy balloon. On Saturday the FAA closed the airspace over the Carolinas to all air traffic.

Then, at last, the object drifted over the Atlantic Ocean on Saturday afternoon. That’s when U.S. jet fighters, presumably Air Force, shot it down.


CNAV anticipates this question: why didn’t any State governor activate his State’s Air National Guard to shoot the balloon down? Can every State governor have forgotten that a State governor has full authority to resist an actual invasion with direct military force?

The Constitution so states. Article I Section 10 Clause 3 (the War-making Clause) reads in relevant part:

No State shall… engage in war, unless actually invaded, or in such imminent danger as will not admit of delay.

At least, a deployment of that kind would seem reasonable. Unfortunately, no State under the balloon’s flight path has any combat aircraft to its name. The Air National Guards of the States involved have airlift, intelligence, communications, and support roles only. The Texas Air National Guard is unusual in having actual combat aircraft it can field to repel an invasion. (Specifically, the 149th Fighter Wing has F-16 Fighting Falcons.)

So obviously the heartland is shockingly vulnerable. That being said, the United States Air Force let a spy balloon take pictures and do sophisticated radio sniffing near at least three missile bases. The “steps” of which General Ryder spoke, to prevent such photography and sniffing, are far from clear. And again, when were they going to tell any State Governors? Apparently never, for they spoke only after civilians looked up in the sky and called in to report.


As for not wanting debris to fall onto the ground and do damage, that defense will not hold. Any damage from falling debris is minimal compared to the damage to our national security the balloon surely did before the Air Force finally “splashed” it. And that damage is definitely done. We must assume worst-case, that the object’s instruments gathered all the data they needed and transmitted it to Beijing.

This strikes CNAV as a prelude to a repossession of Taiwan – and a rehearsal of another Pearl Harbor style attack. Tellingly, this incident has shaken even Dr. Steven Turley’s usual imperturbable equanimity as regards China. Convinced as he is (or was) that the Chinese have re-embraced Confucianism, he never took serious alarm at their actions. Until today.

China sees itself as the Middle Kingdom to Rule the World. They always have, even in the millennia of its Emperors. The Chinese Communist Party furthermore sees itself as having picked up the torch that the Communist Party of the Soviet Union dropped with its own dissolution.

Furthermore, they could be getting desperate. Their population has peaked and is declining. Thank their one-child policy – and SARS-CoV-2. So if they ever want to neutralize the United States and conquer the world, this is their last chance. But they have also shown conclusively that they own President Biden. That should concern every American.

See also Chris Cirino’s guest editorial.

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Terry A. Hurlbut has been a student of politics, philosophy, and science for more than 35 years. He is a graduate of Yale College and has served as a physician-level laboratory administrator in a 250-bed community hospital. He also is a serious student of the Bible, is conversant in its two primary original languages, and has followed the creation-science movement closely since 1993.

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