Balloon Brouhaha

Many foreign policy experts foresee a looming nuclear war between the US and China. That is why Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s planned trip to China next week was so important. So little direct contact with China, coupled with so many provocations, mostly initiated by Uncle Sam, spells almost inevitable conflict.

But Blinken abruptly canceled this important trip over….get this…a balloon. Citizens below and the US government spotted a balloon high up over Montana that admittedly came from China.

Must be a spy balloon gobbling up information on US nuclear installations below, war hawks crowed. Major war promoter stalwart Senator Marco Rubio went balloonistic: "It was a mistake to not shoot down that Chinese spy balloon when it was over a sparsely populated area. 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."

Wiser US heads prevailed for 2 reasons: First, they didn’t want to injure innocents on the ground from falling debris. Second, they knew the balloon, as a spy device, was a bust, saying: Our best assessment at the moment is that whatever the surveillance payload is on this balloon, it does not create significant value added over and above what the PRC (People’s Republic of China) is likely able to collect through things like satellites in Low Earth Orbit,"

As with Russia over Ukraine, the US has pretty much shut down all talk with our imagined enemies in favor of more weapons, more overseas bases, more coordinated war games, more bluster.

I don’t worry about possible spy balloons flying overhead. I worry about real life mushroom clouds.

Walt Zlotow became involved in antiwar activities upon entering University of Chicago in 1963. He is current president of the West Suburban Peace Coalition based in the Chicago western suburbs. He blogs daily on antiwar and other issues at

37 thoughts on “Balloon Brouhaha”

  1. So…what could they possibly glean from this balloon they couldn’t get from Google Earth?
    Or their own spy satellites?

    Now that the party balloon got knocked outta the sky my sense of personal security has…ballooned, so to speak:)

    1. It depends on the maximum weight of sensors and the level of image stabilization achieved. But some benefits: less atmosphere distortion (100-1000 km less than LEO), way lower rate of movement over target (longer exposure rate possible) and the potential sensors are likely not optic but thermal & electromagnetic where being closer to the target could provide real benefit.

      A better question: why exposing your spy equipment and ability in this fashion? There’s a high probability of failure or capture. Was the information so urgent to collect? Was it meant to be more psychological? Or just what China said it was, some scientific balloon lost to the jet stream?

    2. At this time we have no way of knowing if this was a weather balloon, a spy balloon or something else. It might even have been a psychological test by the Chinese to see how the US military, government, media and public would react to a blatant, but non-threatening, incursion into US airspace. Whatever the balloon was, I suspect that Chinese, Russian and Israeli spooks are adding to their psychological profiles of Biden. From a spook’s point of view, Biden’s response is useful information.

      1. I think it was a Rorschach test. And we had a hissy fit. We could have gone through diplomatic channels and quietly inquired as to the purpose of the device…
        But no, we don’t do diplomacy – except at the point of a gun. It’s who we have become, and it’s why we’re eventually going to crash and burn.

        1. Well, “we” don’t know whether or not the US regime went “through diplomatic channels and quietly inquire[d]” about it … at first.

          At a certain point, when the thing became visible to the naked eyes of numerous civilians who were asking “WTF is that?” there had to be some kind of public response.

          And that response was to jump on an opportunity to try to infect everyone with Yellow Horde Panic Syndrome.

        2. Hard to do back door diplomacy when people in Montana are pointing at the balloon and asking WTF is our trillion dollar defense force going to do about it? I think Biden made the right call. The balloon appeared harmless but shooting it down over land would pose a threat from falling, some of which might be toxic or radioactive. The US was justified in shooting it down over the high seas. It was a blatant violation of US airspace, whether intentional or not.

          We may never know the truth about the balloon’s mission or capabilities. Who trusts what either government says?

          1. No, it wasn’t even close to being the “right call.” Pollution of the oceans with crap like this is totally immoral, wrong, and unacceptable. These childish games & fights between nations are minor details in comparison.

          2. Shooting down the balloon over the ocean is the lesser evil. My understanding is that most real weather balloons break apart the parts fall to earth. So the balloon had to come down and it did vioilate US airs space and it was unmanned,

        3. Yeah, this was more of a propaganda exercise than anything. As John said below, we spy on others, they spy on us, so what? The way that the U.S. propagandists got Americans to react about this is the big story here.

  2. February 4, 2023 China Balloon Opportunism and Hypocrisy By Kurt Nimmo

    Day Two of Commie Balloon Madness. The primary feature here is an inflow of “public servant” careerists clogging the interwebs with condemnation of something they hardly understand.,c_limit,f_webp,q_auto:good,fl_progressive:steep/

    1. That’s a great article by Global Research. It asks why China surrounded itself with so many US Bases. China was created thousands of years before there were US Bases anywhere in the world and before there was even a USA.
      The USA did the same thing to China as it did to Russia, it surrounded them with US Bases. The US would not like it if Russia or China surrounded the US with their bases.
      The US will surround the universe and multiverse with its bases if it gets the technology to do that.

      1. One benefit of being American is that you get to be a total hypocrite, as seen in the majority’s reaction to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Such is the life of those in the empire.

      2. You are spot on target and understand this article clearly. Be sure and share everywhere and with anyone who can help the cause. I also enjoyed the clever wording as well friend.

  3. “….it does not create significant value added over and above what the PRC (People’s Republic of China) is likely able to collect through things like satellites in Low Earth Orbit,”

    This is the first thing that came to my mind when I saw the reports of this. So, why would they send this here? Perhaps just to yank the US chain for the amusement in watching the yahoos go ballistic. Smart, probably not……but understandable, hell yes!

    1. Then again, I don’t expect the Pentagon would say something like yes, China could collect many state secrets this way and we are not even sure how to shoot it down, still working on a plan! What is told to the main public is carefully weighed in these situations. Technically a state secret already.

  4. Alexis Mercouris says on YouTube that perhaps the balloon was sent precisely to make Blinken cancel his trip, as it wasn’t desired in the current climate. That the balloon won’t find out anything that low-orbit satellites haven’t already found out would support that. And why would China need to take pictures of nuclear silos anyway? If there’s a nuclear war those pictures won’t matter.

    1. There are too many possibilities for simply claiming it was there by accident. It depends on what kind of sensors it carried because not all sensors do well in low-orbit satelites with such high orbital speed. To “make pictures” is borderline dumb oversimplifying of what remote sensing is. And there’s the question o how much urgency there was to get it in the air for China. Balloon preparation is way less time than getting a launch ready with orbital guidance and positioning.

      It would also be fair asking why China did not contact the US to alert them on a stray high-tech balloon heading their way. If preventing misunderstanding was some kind of goal.

  5. The level of hysteria over this balloon is insane. Of course they choose to sink it over the ocean instead of in Montana where people can actually verify what’s on it. Now they can endless “discover” pieces of “spy equipment” and continue beating the drums for war.

    1. The hysteria is partly caused by the realization another superpower doesn’t seem to care that much what the US thinks on flying stuff over the States. It invokes emotions based on the realization of a potential major power shift.

  6. Has anybody considered that, God forbid, China’s explanation that it was a meterological balloon was true?

    Firstly, it makes no sense to spy with a balloon that moves with the winds when they have satellites which remain stationary. Second, had it been a spy balloon, it would have been shot down the moment it was discovered, collateral damage be damned; just like the civilian plane that was shot down over Pensylavania back on 911.

    It was allowed to complete the trip over the US to whip up ant-China fervor and prepare the population for a war.

    1. The explanation that it was a meteorological balloon makes sense and is the most likely explanation. And making a big public deal out of it for several days was indeed likely motivated by a desire to “whip up anti-China fervor.”

      That said, there are reasons why it would make sense to spy with a balloon that moves with the winds. It’s all about what’s being spied ON.

      How do you spy on another regime’s ability to detect aerial phenomena? By sending aerial phenomena out and seeing how long it takes for them to get detected. During the Cold War, the US and Russian regimes were constantly probing each others’ detection capabilities by sending aircraft toward each others’ airspace and trying to figure out when their opponents noticed them.

      1. I still find it shocking that anyone in the US believes the government’s account… about anything. Fool me a thousand times appears to be the mindset of some Americans. Obviously, it is a weather balloon. That is what most balloons are used for. Obviously, satellites are what governments use to surveil. I don’t understand why Americans still believe the nonsense the government pumps out. How many times do you have to find out they lied to you before you stop trusting them???

      2. One would hope NORAD could pick up something the size of “three buses”, and besides which multiple civilians acquired direct visual contact, which is to say people saw it. If it was a test of the US’s balloon detecting capabilities I guess we passed.

    2. I don’t recall a civilian plane being shot down on 9/11. I recall a hijacked airliner crashing because the passengers realized what was going on and did what they needed to do.

      1. You likely don’t recall either. Unless you live in a particular part of Pennsylvania and happened to have a really good view, you more likely recall being told a story about a hijacked airliner crashing because the passengers realized what was going on and did what they needed to do — a story which may or may not be true.

    3. Spy satellites don’t really remain stationary over the Earth. Most have low polar ~90 minute orbits so as to be able to see any longitude and latitude, albeit for a short duration. Geo stationary orbits are coplanar with the equator, and very “high ups” ~6 Earth radii

      Balloons are actually excellent platforms for observation.
      (And incredibly cheap!)

  7. The provocations are not “mostly” initiated by the U.S., they’re all initiated by the U.S. Aside from this weather balloon, which is not a provocation, what has China done in this part of the world?

    1. Whether or not a particular action is truly a “provocation” (“action or speech that makes someone annoyed or angry, especially deliberately”) is mostly up to the party claiming to have been “provoked.” If the action can be used to justify something the “provoked” party wanted to do anyway, or added to a stack of past actions to eventually be used as such an excuse, it’s a “provocation.” If not, it isn’t.

      The important thing to remember, as I’ve pointed out before, and as the Future of Freedom Foundation’s Jacob Hornberger pointed out on Friday, is that saying a particular action was “provoked” is not the same as saying that that action was “justified.”

      1. I totally agree with your last sentence. It’s the same as the difference between an excuse for doing something and a reason for doing it. However, putting the U.S. military near China is hugely different than mere words or even actions halfway around the world from the U.S. by China, even if the U.S. claims to be provoked by them. If the Nazi German government claimed to be provoked by support for German Jews, would you give that any legitimacy?

        1. I agree that it’s more reasonable for Regime A to be concerned about Regime B placing military bases around/near Regime A’s claimed turf than for regime B to be concerned about about regime A’s statements or internal/domestic actions. Which describes part of the relationship between China (Regime A) and the US (Regime B).

          On the other hand, the Chinese regime seems to have a keyboard macro for automatically generating “we’re provoked” press releases every time someone it doesn’t like (for example, the Dalai Lama) visits the US, or someone from the US visits a third regime (Taiwan).

          All in all, I’d rate the US regime as more “provocative” toward the Chinese regime than vice versa, even controlling for the Chinese regime’s bulk manufacture of “provocations.”

          But both regimes (and all others) have various objectives that they will use their catalog of “provocations” by other regimes to justify. No regime, for example, just says “we’re going to war because we want that land and the resources under it.” All of them claim to have been “provoked,” and whether or not the war is actually justified is seldom a function, overall, of their offered lists of “provocations.”

          1. We basically agree. I just don’t like U.S. provocations of China being falsely claimed to be equivalent to what China does. I’m no fan of China, the U.S. or any large country; they should all be broken up into much smaller ones, and they’re all evil by their merely being large.

            Another issue is that the U.S. is the evil empire on the planet at this time, and we live, vote, and pay taxes in the U.S., so our criticisms should be directed here, not at China.

  8. They spy on us, we spy on them. I don’t see the point of injecting this level of emotion into business as usual.

  9. Mkay, FWIW I’m an aerospace engineer and:

    1. No matter how many government officials or MSM outlets say so, the balloon did not have “the ability to maneuver independently”. Spherical balloons without engines can’t “maneuver independently”, that’s just stupid. They blow with the wind. Which nobody controls. I understood this as a small child.

    2. As near as I can tell there’s absolutely no informed analysis of the balloon anywhere, which I guess would interfere with all the hysteria, so: I found a high res shot of the payload and it has a truss structure and solar panels like the International Space Station. The only clear sensor capability appears to be two cameras on the ends of the truss booms, separated by maybe 10 meters, presumably to enable stereoscopic imaging. I think the structural attach point at the top might double as an antenna. Maybe it’s a university project of some sort. It has essentially no military utility except perhaps to give the US a chance to look foolish, if you want to count that.

    per Wikipedia:
    1) “[The balloon] generally followed jet stream patterns, the official said, except when it stopped to loiter near sensitive sites”
    2) “from its observed hovering over Malmstrom AFB”

    … these claims aren’t inaccurate, they’re lies. No radar system showed a free floating balloon stopping anywhere, least of all in the jet stream, but I guess the propaganda machine knows it doesn’t have to stay within the bounds of physics with the public.

  10. No one has mentioned this here, so I will. Polluting the ocean with this garbage was totally wrong and immoral. If the U.S. was so concerned about this balloon, it should have found a way to bring it down without shooting it. If that wasn’t possible, it should have shot it down over land, because it could have been cleaned up afterward. Shooting it down over the ocean means that it will pollute the ocean and harm the life in it indefinitely.

    I realize that the vast majority of people in modern society don’t properly prioritize the natural environment or the life there, but that should always be our priority above all else.

    1. It would eventually crash any way. That is the fate of all (weather ?, spy?) balloons… They are disposable. I would estimate a ~70% chance it would land in water regardless.

      But shooting down a balloon? Damn… that is what I call a prime time spectacle!

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