February 3, 2023 Suspected Chinese spy balloon flies over the US

By Aditi Sangal, Leinz Vales, Adrienne Vogt, Matt Meyer, Elise Hammond and Tori B. Powell, CNN

Updated 0532 GMT (1332 HKT) February 4, 2023
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7:47 p.m. ET, February 3, 2023

Another Chinese spy balloon is transiting Latin America, Pentagon says

From CNN's Natasha Bertrand

The Pentagon said Friday evening that another Chinese spy balloon is currently transiting Latin America.

“We are seeing reports of a balloon transiting Latin America. We now assess it is another Chinese surveillance balloon,” press secretary Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder said in a statement to CNN.

It is unclear exactly where the balloon is over Latin America – but a US official tells CNN it does not appear to be currently heading to the United States.

7:17 p.m. ET, February 3, 2023

How high is the suspected Chinese spy balloon?

From CNN's Connie Chen

The suspected Chinese surveillance balloon is flying about 60,000 feet above the United States, according to Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder.

To put that in perspective, that's in the stratosphere, about 18,000 feet higher than where commercial airplanes fly.

Here's a look at how that compares to other things in the sky:

8:19 p.m. ET, February 3, 2023

Officials are watching the suspected spy balloon make its way across the US. Here's what we know

From CNN staff

The suspected spy balloon flies over Billings, Montana on Wednesday, February 1.
The suspected spy balloon flies over Billings, Montana on Wednesday, February 1. (Chase Doak/Reuters) 

Officials are still tracking a suspected Chinese spy balloon as it travels across the United States. The Pentagon said it does not currently pose a threat and that it is expected to remain over the US for the next couple days.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken postponed his trip to China this weekend in light of the incident, which he called a “clear violation of our sovereignty," but said lines of communication will remain open to resolve the issue.

Here's what we know so far:

  • About the balloon: The balloon was about 60,000 feet above the central continental US Friday and was moving east, Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said. The balloon "has the ability to maneuver,” Ryder told reporters, but he did not provide specifics. He also flatly denied the Chinese government's claim that the balloon serves a civilian research purpose, saying that the US knows it is a "surveillance balloon."
  • US response: The Pentagon said the balloon currently does not pose a "military or political" threat. Officials have assessed that shooting it down could create debris that hurt people on the ground, according to Ryder. But that’s not to say that it couldn’t be shot down eventually; a senior defense official said Thursday that the US has “options to deal with this balloon” if the risk assessment changes.
  • Where it is going: The balloon is expected to remain over the US for a couple of days, Ryder said. Its path carries it over a “number of sensitive sites” in the US, according to officials. It has been seen over Montana, which is home to underground US military intercontinental ballistic missile silos.
  • Postponed trip: Secretary of State Antony Blinken postponed his trip to China this weekend, saying the suspected surveillance balloon was “detrimental” to discussions that officials planned to have during his visit. He said it is a “clear violation of our sovereignty" and that officials are focused on "getting the surveillance asset out of our airspace." He said he plans to visit China "when conditions allow."
  • White House briefings: President Joe Biden was first briefed on the balloon Tuesday and has been receiving continued updates from the National Security team, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said. Top leaders of the House and Senate intelligence committees will be briefed next week on the Chinese spy balloon, according to a spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.
  • Impact on flights: The balloon's presence resulted in the hours-long grounding of commercial flights in a swath of airspace at least 200 miles long earlier Friday, according to a new statement from the Billings, Montana, airport. A source said the ground stop was for Department of Defense activity. Pilots flying at high altitudes have spotted the balloon, noting it to air traffic controllers.
5:14 p.m. ET, February 3, 2023

Top lawmakers will be briefed next week on China spy balloon, Schumer spokesperson says

From CNN's Manu Raju and Alayna Treene

Top leaders of the House and Senate on the intelligence committees, also known as the Gang of Eight, will be briefed next week on the Chinese spy balloon, according to a spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

5:10 p.m. ET, February 3, 2023

Senate Intelligence chair says China would never allow a surveillance balloon to remain over its territory

From CNN's Morgan Rimmer

“There’s no way the (Chinese Communist Party) would allow a balloon like this to fly over the Chinese heartland,” Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner tweeted Friday.

Warner was referring to the suspected surveillance balloon floating over the continental United States, which the Pentagon has said is currently too dangerous to shoot down.

“China’s aggressive behavior is a violation of international norms and shows a reckless disregard for the safety of American citizens," Warner added.

Some prominent Republican critics have called for President Joe Biden's administration to knock the aircraft out of the sky.

The Pentagon says the balloon does not have greater spying capability than surveillance satellites in low Earth orbit, which China already uses.

During a news conference on Friday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he was postponing his trip to Beijing because of the balloon, noting that any country would respond similarly.

He added: "And I can imagine what the reaction would be in China if they were on the other end.”

4:55 p.m. ET, February 3, 2023

Prominent Republicans call for US to shoot down suspected spy balloon

From CNN Staff

Former President Donald Trump delivers remarks at the South Carolina State House on January 28 in Columbia, South Carolina.
Former President Donald Trump delivers remarks at the South Carolina State House on January 28 in Columbia, South Carolina. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Prominent Republican leaders, including former President Donald Trump, are criticizing President Joe Biden's administration for not knocking the suspected Chinese surveillance balloon out of the sky.

As of Friday afternoon, a Pentagon spokesperson said downing the balloon would create a "significant" debris field and potentially hurt or kill people on the ground.

The Pentagon has repeatedly declined to say whether the US is considering shooting the balloon down if it is over a body of water and won't pose a risk to people on the ground.

Remember: US officials have said the balloon does not have the ability to bring in more intelligence than spy satellites in low Earth orbit, which China already uses. 

Here is what some of the administration's critics said Friday:

  • Former President Trump: “SHOOT DOWN THE BALLOON!” the former president wrote on his Truth Social platform. Trump, who has announced a bid for the 2024 presidency, tied his criticism to a wider vow to curtail Chinese espionage if elected.
  • Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley: Haley, who is expected to launch her own presidential bid later this month, also called for the US to shoot down the balloon in a Twitter post. The former governor said "Biden is letting China walk all over us."
  • Sen. Marco Rubio: Rubio, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations and Intelligence committees, said the administration should have ordered the balloon shot down "over a sparsely populated area." He continued: "This is not some hot air balloon, it has a large payload of sensors roughly the size of two city buses & the ability to maneuver independently."
  • Former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo: Pompeo called in a tweet for the US to "shoot down the (Chinese Communist Party)'s balloon safely, and demand answers" from Chinese President Xi Jinping. He said the administration was displaying "weakness" on China.
4:27 p.m. ET, February 3, 2023

"The first step is getting the surveillance asset out of our airspace," Blinken says

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the first step to addressing a suspected Chinese spy balloon flying over the United States is simple — to get it out of US airspace.

“The first step is getting the surveillance asset out of our airspace – and that’s what we’re focused on," he said at a news conference Friday.

Blinken postponed his trip to China this weekend because of the incident, saying the balloon created conditions that undermined the purpose of the trip which was to “build a floor under the relationship” and address a broad range of issues. Blinken said he told his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi that he would not travel to Beijing, according to a readout from State Department spokesperson Ned Price.

“The Secretary noted the PRC’s statement of regret but conveyed that this is an irresponsible act and a clear violation of U.S. sovereignty and international law that undermined the purpose of the trip,” the readout said.

During the news conference, Blinken underscored the importance of keeping lines of communication open while the issue of the balloon is resolved. He said he plans to visit China "when conditions allow."

Some background: The Pentagon has said officials have assessed that shooting down the balloon would be dangerous, possibly creating a debris field and potentially hurting people. Officials said they are continuing to monitor the balloon as it moves over the central US.

4:08 p.m. ET, February 3, 2023

Blinken confirms he is postponing China trip

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he is postponing his trip this weekend to China in light of the suspected Chinese spy balloon heading across the US.

"We're confident this is a Chinese surveillance balloon," he said.

Blinken said that it was “detrimental” to discussions that officials planned to have during his visit. He added that the US and China will continue to keep lines of communication open, including to address the balloon.

“Once we detected the balloon, the US government acted immediately to protect against the collection of sensitive information,” Blinken said at a news conference Friday. “We communicated with the PRC (People's Republic of China) government directly through multiple channels about this issue. Members of my team consulted with our partners in other agencies, and in Congress. We also engaged our close allies and partners to inform them of the presence of the surveillance balloon in our airspace.”

Blinken said he told the Director of the CCP Central Foreign Affairs Office Wang Yi this morning that the balloon flight was an "irresponsible act" and a "clear violation of US sovereignty" and international law.

He said he plans to visit Beijing "when conditions allow."

“The world expects the United States and China to manage our relationship responsibly,” he said.
“The United States will continue to act in a way that reflects that responsibility. We look to our PRC counterparts to do the same,” he added.

CNN's Jennifer Hansler contributed to this post.

3:17 p.m. ET, February 3, 2023

Pilots are reporting sightings of the suspected Chinese balloon

From CNN's Pete Muntean

Pilots flying at high altitudes have spotted the suspected Chinese spy balloon as it drifts over the central United States.

“Derelict balloon adrift,” noted the crew of a Cessna Citation private jet in a weather report, which came into the Federal Aviation Administration around 11:30 a.m. ET.

The pilot of the flight, which was at 43,000 feet, said the balloon was 20 miles north of Kansas City International Airport at about 50,000 feet. The publicly-available pilot weather observation is known as a Pilot Report or PIREP.

A source familiar with the situation tells CNN that other pilots are reporting seeing the balloon to air traffic controllers.