The briefing at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, comes shortly after word that Secretary of State Antony Blinken has postponed a trip to China in response to the balloon sighting.
12:04 p.m. ET, February 3, 2023
Canada summons Chinese ambassador over suspected spy balloon
From CNN’s Paula Newton in Ottawa
Canada says it has summoned China’s ambassador to explain why a surveillance device entered Canadian airspace. A spokesperson for Global Affairs says Canada would like China to explain why and how its high-altitude monitoring device entered its airspace.
“Yesterday, China’s Ambassador to Canada was summoned by officials at Global Affairs Canada regarding the situation described in the statement issued by Canada’s Department of National Defence. We will continue to vigorously express our position to Chinese officials through multiple channels,” says Jason Kung, as a spokesperson from Global Affairs Canada in a statement provided to CNN.
In a statement Thursday, Canada’s Department of National Defence confirmed it had detected the monitoring device and said it continues to track the surveillance balloon along with NORAD and its US counterparts.
“Canadians are safe and Canada is taking steps to ensure the security of its airspace, including the monitoring of a potential second incident. NORAD, the Canadian Armed Forces, the Department of National Defence, and other partners have been assessing the situation and working in close coordination,” reads the statement in part.
CNN has asked for clarification regarding the "second incident" mentioned in the statement but the Canadian government says it does not yet have any more information to share at this time.
11:34 a.m. ET, February 3, 2023
Why the US hasn't shot down the suspected Chinese surveillance balloon, according to officials
From CNN's Haley Britzky
As the US and its Canadian partners continue to monitor a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon floating above the northern United States, one question stands out among the rest: Why hasn’t it been shot down?
Officials have said that the balloon’s path carries it over a “number of sensitive sites” in the US. It has been seen over Montana, which is home to underground US military intercontinental ballistic missile silos.
But ultimately, officials determined that the potential damage of falling debris outweighed the risk of the balloon itself, which they said does not have the ability to bring in more intelligence than spy satellites in low Earth orbit, which China already uses.
“Why not shoot it down? We have to do the risk-reward here,” a senior defense official said on Thursday. “So the first question is, does it pose a threat, a physical kinetic threat, to individuals in the United States in the US homeland? Our assessment is it does not. Does it pose a threat to civilian aviation? Our assessment is it does not. Does it pose a significantly enhanced threat on the intelligence side? Our best assessment right now is that it does not. So given that profile, we assess the risk of downing it, even if the probability is low in a sparsely populated area of the debris falling and hurting someone or damaging property, that it wasn’t worth it.”
President Joe Biden was briefed on the balloon’s movements and requested options from his military advisers. And while there was consideration to down the balloon while it was over Montana, the advice was to ultimately not to.The Biden administration acted “immediately” to protect against the collection of sensitive intelligence, an official said on Thursday.
But that’s not to say that it couldn’t be shot down eventually; the senior defense official said on Thursday that the US has “options to deal with this balloon” if the risk it poses changes.
“We have communicated to [Chinese officials] the seriousness with which we take this issue. … But we have made clear we will do whatever is necessary to protect our people and our homeland,” the official said.
11:16 a.m. ET, February 3, 2023
The president was involved in high-level talks that led to Blinken postponing China trip, sources say
From CNN's Kevin Liptak
Officials decided to postpone Secretary of State Antony Blinken's visit to China after high-level conversations between Blinken, President Joe Biden and other top national security officials, according to people familiar with the matter.
In the lead up to Blinken's trip, officials said it was possible that Biden and Xi could speak again at some point in the next several months.
But Biden has been sensitive to criticism from Republicans and others that he is too soft on China. He agreed with Pentagon recommendations not to shoot down the balloon, potentially endangering people on the ground, but he did want to demonstrate some type of response.
Officials also believed the timing of the balloon could throw off Blinken's agenda in Beijing, and did not necessarily want his visit to become solely about the incident.
11:21 a.m. ET, February 3, 2023
Senior US State Department official says a Beijing visit "wouldn't be constructive" now
From CNN's Jennifer Hansler
A senior State Department official said Friday that "it wouldn't be constructive" for US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to visit Beijing right now due to the flying of a suspected Chinese spy balloon over the United States.
“[A] clear assessment was that under these current conditions, it wouldn't be constructive to visit Beijing at this time,” the official said, adding that the presence of the suspected Chinese spy balloon is “a clear violation of our sovereignty as well as international law.”
Blinken just postponed his upcoming trip to China in response to the suspected spy balloon, according to two US officials.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry maintains it is "a civilian airship used for research, mainly meteorological, purposes."
The official said the US has acknowledged China’s “statement of regret but the presence of this balloon in our airspace is a clear violation of our sovereignty as well as international law and it is unacceptable that this has occurred,” the official said, calling this not an accusation but “a statement of fact.”
“After consultations with our interagency partners, as well as with Congress, we have concluded that the conditions are not right at this moment for Secretary Blinken to travel to China,” the official told reporters, noting that Blinken was due to depart for Beijing Friday night.
“In this current environment, I think it would have significantly narrowed the agenda that we would have been able to address,” the official added.
Blinken conveyed the decision to postpone the trip directly to China’s top diplomat Wang Yi on Friday morning, according to the official.
The US official said that Blinken intends to travel to China “at the earliest opportunity when conditions allow” but did not elaborate on what conditions the US is watching for.
“I think it might be best if I don't get into all of the details of our diplomatic communications. But I will underscore we have been crystal clear with our Chinese counterparts that this was an unacceptable and irresponsible incident,” the official said. “And we have been clear about, again, our concerns and our expectations.”
“I'm confident that that will continue, and I'm confident that given that our diplomatic channels remain open, we'll continue to address this matter forthrightly,” according to the official.
“I'm confident that our channels of communication will remain as important as ever,” the official.
10:59 a.m. ET, February 3, 2023
The Pentagon is tracking a suspected Chinese spy balloon over the US. Here's what we know so far
A senior defense official said Thursday they are confident the balloon belongs to the People’s Republic of China, an assessment “shared across our intelligence and analytic communities.”
US officials maintain that the balloon does not pose a physical threat to people on the ground, nor are there significant concerns about the balloon’s intelligence-gathering capabilities.
Here is what we know so far:
About the balloon: The balloon, which is the size of three buses according to another defense official, was spotted over Montana, where the US military has underground intercontinental ballistic missile silos. The balloon is not capable of gathering intelligence better than China can already get from its satellites in low Earth orbit, according to US officials.
Can the US shoot it down? Senior military leaders have advised against shooting the balloon down. They say it does not pose a physical threat to people on the ground or to civilian aviation. There are, however, concerns about falling debris if it were to be shot down.
How the Biden administration is responding: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has postponed his upcoming trip to China in response to the balloon sighting. The postponement marks a significant new phase in the tensions between Washington and Beijing.
What China is saying: Chinese officials called the balloon a “civilian airship used for research, mainly meteorological, purposes,” which “deviated far from its planned course.”
US Lawmakers weigh in: Montana Sen. Jon Tester, the top defense appropriator, called the balloon a "provocation" and "completely unacceptable." House Speaker Kevin McCarthy called it a "destabilizing action that must be addressed."
What happens now: Sources familiar with the matter told CNN that Beijing likely can predict the balloon’s path and can control its internal surveillance gear to a certain extent. The balloon is also being tracked by the Canadian Armed Forces and Canada’s Department of National Defense.
This isn't a first: There have been similar incidents of suspected Chinese surveillance balloons over Hawaii and Guam in recent years, a US official said.
10:30 a.m. ET, February 3, 2023
Blinken postpones trip to Beijing after suspected Chinese spy balloon spotted over US, officials say
The postponement marks a significant new phase in the tensions between Washington and Beijing.
The Chinese foreign ministry claimed Friday that the suspected Chinese high-altitude surveillance balloon flying over the continental United States is a "civilian airship" used mainly for weather research that deviated from its planned course. The statement by a spokesperson for the Chinese ministry is the first admission that the airship originated in China since the Pentagon revealed it was tracking the balloon on Thursday.
A US military official said that the incident was “definitely serious” because of the “audacity” of the Chinese government, rather than any intelligence gain. While existing satellites are able to gather similar amounts of information, the timing of the spy balloon — right before the planned Blinken trip — and the fact that this is right over the continental US contribute to the seriousness of this moment, the official said.
The top US diplomat’s trip to the Chinese capital was due to follow up President Joe Biden's meeting with Xi Jinping in Bali late last year.
"On China, as you know, President Biden, President Xi had a very open, candid conversation during the last G20 meeting in Bali, and they spoke about our intentions," Blinken said at a press conference in Washington, DC, in January. "President Biden shared our intentions and our priorities, and we got some sense of that from President Xi as well."
"These lines of communication, starting with the presidents but also including many of us, are vitally important," Blinken said at the time.