When we think about modern, 21st-century espionage, many of us are apt to envision a dimly-lit room full of computer monitors displaying some unknown operating system or lines of code, while a small battalion of keyboard warriors click and clack their way into sensitive online spaces hoping to unearth some secret that should remain near and dear to our national security. This is the digital age after all, and we are smack-dab in the middle of the Information Revolution.
But there is still plenty of old school spycraft floating around, (no pun intended), and this week brought us a glaring example gliding on the tradewinds over Montana as a Chinese surveillance balloon was spotted by authorities.
Now, almost unbelievably, China is warning the United States to keep calm.
Beijing urged Washington to remain “cool-headed” Friday, as it investigates reports that a suspected Chinese-operated spy balloon has been hovering over sensitive U.S. airspace.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said at a press briefing that authorities were still learning about the matter, adding that politicians and the public should withhold judgment “before we have a clear understanding of the facts.”
“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,” Mao said, via an NBC translation.
The government has decided, somewhat shockingly, not to intervene.
After the sighting, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin convened a meeting of senior military and defense leaders and other combatant commanders to review the threat profile of the stratospheric balloon and brief President Joe Biden on possible responses.
Such options included shooting down the balloon. That action was ultimately dismissed because of the potential risk to safety and security of people on the ground from the possible debris field.
A senior defense official said authorities are continuing to monitor the balloon closely and will take “all necessary steps” to protect against foreign intelligence collection of sensitive information.
Many Americans were incensed at the Biden administration’s decision to allow the balloon to continue on its mission unmolested, stirring up lingering concerns about the President’s relationship with the Chinese Communist Party.