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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12:27 a.m. ET, February 4, 2023

Over live coverage of the suspected Chinese spy balloon has moved here.

12:03 a.m. ET, February 4, 2023

Biden is being constantly briefed on suspected Chinese spy balloon

From CNN's Phil Mattingly

US President Joe Biden has been constantly briefed throughout the day on the suspected Chinese spy balloon as it hovers over the US, including calls with national security team officials, according to a senior administration official.

There was another briefing scheduled for when Biden arrived in Wilmington Friday evening. 

The military options President Biden asked for at the start have been maintained and updated as the situation has evolved, the official said, noting that no options had been taken off the table.

Why hasn't the US shot down the suspected spy balloon? Biden and national security team officials have discussed options including shooting the balloon down, the official said.

Earlier, the military had advised against shooting down the balloon due to the risk of falling debris, but the situation could change as the balloon moves towards the East Coast.

The official said multiple options were being considered, but declined to detail what those options may include. 

11:07 p.m. ET, February 3, 2023

Substructure beneath the suspected Chinese spy balloon is roughly 90 feet

From CNN's Katie Bo Lillis

The substructure beneath the suspected Chinese spy balloon, believed by officials to be the steering and surveillance apparatus, is roughly 90 feet, according to a defense official. That's roughly the length of three city buses. 

The balloon carrying that substructure is significantly larger and taller, the source said. 

Earlier Thursday, Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder said the balloon has a "large payload underneath the surveillance component," comparing it to a basket under a blimp. 

In terms of size, Ryder had said the balloon is big enough that officials are worried about potential debris possibly hurting people on the ground if the US were to shoot it down.

10:47 p.m. ET, February 3, 2023

Suspected spy balloon could exit the east coast overnight

From CNN's Dave Hennen, Katie Bo Lillis and Oren Liebermann

The suspected Chinese spy balloon could exit the east coast of the United States as early as Saturday morning, based off a NOAA weather model.

The latest projections show a path through Kentucky, Tennessee into North Carolina over the next 24 hours. Going by the last reported CNN known position of Cape Girardeau, Missouri, the current projection would show the balloon moving off the coast near the Outer Banks sometime late tonight or Saturday morning.

Two US defense officials also tell CNN that the balloon is expected to reach the East Coast and then pass out to sea in the southeast, near the Carolinas. One of the officials said it could exit the US east coast on Saturday.

The NOAA weather model known as HYSPLIT is used to simulate the dispersion or trajectory of substances dispersed into the atmosphere.

10:01 p.m. ET, February 3, 2023

North Carolina police department urges residents to not take potshots at suspected spy balloon

From CNN’s Paradise Afshar and Dianne Gallagher

The Gastonia Police Department in North Carolina is asking residents not to call the police if they see the suspected spy balloon – and to refrain from taking potshots at it. 

“If the now infamous Chinese ‘weather balloon’ makes its way over Gastonia, please don’t call the police to report it,” the department wrote on Facebook

Police also reminded residents that they, “don’t have the capability to respond to an altitude of 60k feet to check it out,” and "we are pretty sure the Feds would want us to stay out of it.”

The department ended the post by urging residents to “please don’t take pot shots at it with your handguns in an attempt to bring it down on your own.” 

Gastonia is a city of more than 80,000 people, about 20 miles west of Charlotte.

Some context: The US has been tracking the suspected Chinese spy balloon, which was first spotted in Montana and is believed to be moving eastward. CNN meteorologist Jennifer Gray said Friday evening that based on the wind direction, it could end up over the Carolinas or Virginia in the next 24 hours.

10:04 p.m. ET, February 3, 2023

Suspected spy balloon appears headed toward Carolinas or Virginia, based on wind direction

The suspected Chinese spy balloon appears to be following the direction of the wind, according to CNN meteorologist Jennifer Gray. Over the next 24 hours, strong gusts are forecast to turn west to east, which could send the balloon around the Carolinas or Virginia, she said.

After being initially spotted in Montana, the balloon was last seen in Missouri.

"That would make you think it would sort of drift in that direction," Gray told CNN's Anderson Cooper on Friday. She noted that forecasts should be taken "with a little bit of a grain of salt because winds can dramatically change speed with height. They can also change direction."

Gray said she foresees it being hard for the balloon to end up across major Northeastern cities if the wind is the sole factor drifting it.

"We have this extreme cold blast in the Northeast right now driving the winds from north to south, so I think it would hold onto that trajectory as of right now. Of course, so many things to consider," Gray said.

Some background: Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder said the US Defense Department knows the balloon “has the ability to maneuver.” Sources familiar with the matter previously told CNN that the balloon’s movement relies primarily on the jet stream. Ryder added on Friday that the balloon “has changed its course which, again, is why we’re monitoring it.”

Watch Jennifer Gray's report here:

9:16 p.m. ET, February 3, 2023

China's foreign ministry says balloon entering US airspace was an accident

From CNN’s Larry Register and Steven Jiang

The unmanned Chinese airship that entered US airspace was "completely an accident caused by force majeure, and the facts are very clear,” a spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry said Saturday.

On Friday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced he would postpone his upcoming visit to China in response to the incident.

The foreign ministry spokesperson said maintaining “contact and communication at all levels” was an important consensus of the Bali meeting between the heads of China and the United States, a reference to the three-hour meeting between US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping in November.

The spokesperson affirmed the Chinese narrative about the suspected spy balloon, saying the unmanned airship strayed into US airspace “due to force majeure.”

China has “checked and provided feedback to the US side,” the spokesperson said.

“The airship is of civil nature and is used for scientific research such as meteorology. Affected by the westerly wind and its own control ability is limited, the airship seriously deviated from the scheduled route” the spokesperson said. 

Repeating earlier comments, the spokesperson added: “China has always strictly abided by international law, respected the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries, and has never intentionally and never violated the territory and airspace of any sovereign country. Some politicians and media in the United States took advantage of the issue to attack and discredit China. China firmly opposes it.”

Some background: The Pentagon earlier on Friday 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."

8:17 p.m. ET, February 3, 2023

Northern Command coordinating with NASA on debris field if balloon were shot down, official says

From CNN's Haley Britzky

The US Northern Command is coordinating with NASA to determine what the debris field would be if the balloon floating above the United States were to be shot down, according to a defense official.

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.