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Ballooning paranoia: The China threat hits the skies

Thankfully, one or two sober notes of reflection have prevailed, even from within the military-intelligence fraternity. The Center for Strategic and International Studies has issued a few self-evident truths.  ‘Balloons are not an ideal platform for spying,’ writes James Andrew Lewis, ‘they are big and hard to hide.  They go where the winds take them’.  Such instruments ‘would be a strange choice for a technologically advanced and sophisticated opponent’.

Independent Australia, By Binoy Kampmark | 13 February 2023

Hysteria over balloons is a strange thing, writes Dr Binoy Kampmark.

HOT AIR balloons first appeared during the Napoleonic era, where they served as delivery weapons for bombs and undertook surveillance tasks. High-altitude balloons were also used by, of all powers, the United States during the 1950s, for reasons of gathering intelligence, though these were shot down by the irritated Soviets. 

On 28 January, a device reported to be a “high-altitude surveillance balloon” entered U.S. airspace in Alaska. It then had a brief spell in Canadian airspace before returning to the U.S. via Idaho on 31 January. 

On 4 February, with the balloon moving off the coast of South Carolina, a decision was made by the U.S. military to shoot it down using an F-22 Raptor from the First Fighter Wing based at Langley Air Force Base.  The Pentagon has revealed that the collection of debris is underway.

In response, the Chinese Foreign Ministry issued a stern note of disapproval, protesting:

‘The US attack on a civilian unmanned airship by force.’

This was ‘a clear overreaction and a serious violation of international practice’. Beijing also issued a note of apology, regretting ‘the unintended entry of the ship into U.S. airspace due to force majeure’.

A U.S. State Department official, while noting the statement of regret, felt compelled to designate:

‘The presence of this balloon in our airspace [as] a clear violation of our sovereignty as well as international law.’

Rumours of a second Chinese balloon flying across Latin America were also confirmed by a spokesperson of the Chinese Foreign Ministry on 6 February, who described it as being “of a civilian nature and is used for flight tests”.The instrument had been impaired by weather in its direction, having “limited self-control capabilities”.

The Pentagon’s press secretary, Brigadier General Pat Ryder, also confirmed the existence of the second balloon, reaching the predictably opposite conclusion to his Chinese counterparts:

“We are seeing reports of a balloon transiting Latin America. We now assess it is another Chinese surveillance balloon.”

This overegged saga has seen much airtime and column space dedicated to those in the pay of the military-defence complex. Little thought was given to the purpose of such a seemingly crude way of collecting military intelligence. Timothy Heath of the Rand Corporation went so far as to extol the merits of such cheeky devices. For one thing, they were hard to detect, making them somehow reliable.

General Glen VanHerck, commander of North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command, made reference to a number of Chinese spy balloons that supposedly operated with impunity during the Trump Administration. “I will tell you that we did not detect those threats,” he said. This had resulted in a “domain awareness gap that we have to figure out”. 

The begging bowl for even larger defence budgets is being pushed around the corridors of power.

Lawyers of international law have also had their say, reaching for their manuals, and shaking their heads gravely. Donald Rothwell of the Australian National University thought that:

‘The incursion of the Chinese balloon tested the boundaries of international law.’  

Thankfully, one or two sober notes of reflection have prevailed, even from within the military-intelligence fraternity. The Center for Strategic and International Studies has issued a few self-evident truths.  ‘Balloons are not an ideal platform for spying,’ writes James Andrew Lewis, ‘they are big and hard to hide.  They go where the winds take them’.  Such instruments ‘would be a strange choice for a technologically advanced and sophisticated opponent’.……………………………..

The Chinese explanation has been scoffed at and derisively dismissed. Yet balloons are an almost quotidian feature of scientific and meteorological work, whatever the official explanation offered by Beijing might be. NASA’s own Scientific Balloon Program, for instance, has been most engaged of late. 

The organisation was keen to tout its fall 2022 campaign involving six scientific, engineering and student balloon flights in support of 17 missions.

The scale of any one mission be sizeable. ‘Our balloon platforms’, came the description from NASA’s Scientific Balloon chief Debbie Fairbrother, ‘can lift several thousand pounds to the edge of space, allowing for multiple, various scientific instruments, technologies, and education payloads to fly together in one balloon flight’.

The disproportionate nature of Washington’s reaction to Beijing over such balloons also looks rather odd in the face of the vast surveillance technologies it deploys against adversaries and friends. 

But politics is not merely the art of the possible but an opportunity for the absurd to find form and voice.  On this score, the mouse has clearly terrified the elephant.  https://independentaustralia.net/politics/politics-display/ballooning-paranoia-the-china-threat-hits-the-skies,17230

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February 13, 2023 - Posted by | politics international, spinbuster, USA

2 Comments »

  1. Deranged farce. The ukrainians are using hyocyanic acid in donesk, as the Ukraine proxy war escalates. That is chemical warfare.
    A derailment of a train in Ohio, from a loose wheel, that caused a mushroom cloud with thousands of tons of vinyl chloride and hydrochloric acid, spewed over a town in Ohio, barely covered in the news. This was a after a railway strike, partially about overwork and safety concerns. A railway strike, that was shutdown by the usa congress and Biden. The worst lies and deranged propaganda possible about balloons, while real news bout ctastrophe is cencored.
    Balloon bs to start ww3 in 2023. Just sickening, ignorant, and evil.
    Dead chickens sick kids some dead elderly people in ohio. The usa is a lying bully State.

    Comment by Hana Pipkin | February 13, 2023 | Reply

  2. Deranged farce. The ukrainians are using hyocyanic acid in donesk, as the Ukraine proxy war escalates. That is chemical warfare.

    A derailment of a train in Ohio, from a loose wheel, that caused a mushroom cloud with thousands of tons of vinyl chloride and hydrochloric acid, spewed over a town in Ohio. It was  barely covered in the news. The derailment, was a after a railway strike, partially about overwork and safety concerns. A railway strike, that was shutdown by the usa congress and Biden.

    The worst lies and deranged propaganda possible about balloons, while real news about catastrophe is cencored. Balloon bs to start ww3 in 2023. Just sickening, ignorant, and evil. Dead chickens sick kids some dead elderly people in ohio. The usa is a lying bully State.

    Comment by Hana pipkin | February 14, 2023 | Reply


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