The Pentagon admitted that a Chinese balloon that crossed into US territory in February was not spying; it was likely blown off course by wind. But the media milked the scandal for cold war propaganda
21 Sept 2023
The Chinese balloon that crossed into US airspace in February 2023, likely by accident
The US government has admitted that severe accusations it made against China were just a lot of hot air.
The highest-ranking official in the US military has clarified that a Chinese balloon that crossed into US territory in February 2023 was not spying; it was likely blown off course by wind.
CBS News published an interview this September with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, who stated, "The intelligence community, their assessment – and it's a high-confidence assessment – [is] that there was no intelligence collection by that balloon”.
Milley conceded that the large rubber object was probably pushed off track by powerful wind.
This report, released seven months after the incident, has confirmed exactly what the Chinese government stated at the time: its balloon was not spying on the United States, and only accidentally entered its airspace.
The US government has still insisted that the Chinese balloon had technology that could have potentially been used to gather information - although it has not clarified if that technology was focused specifically on collecting data on weather patterns, which is what Beijing said it was doing.
Regardless, in another massive blow to Washington's narrative, CBS News acknowledged in its report that, "After the Navy raised the wreckage from the bottom of the Atlantic, technical experts discovered the balloon's sensors had never been activated while over the Continental United States".
So even if the Chinese balloon had the technological capacity to spy on the United States, as Washington claims, the sensor was never turned on.
This is not the first time a senior US official has admitted that the Chinese balloon was not spying.
In June, Pentagon press secretary Brigadier General Pat Ryder made very similar comments.
"We're aware that [the balloon] had intelligence collection capabilities, but it was our -- and it has been our -- assessment now that it did not collect while it was transiting the United States", the Defense Department spokesman said, in remarks quoted by ABC News.
These statements confirm that Geopolitical Economy Report was accurate in its analysis in February, which synthesized existing evidence at the time and concluded that the Chinese balloon had likely been blown off course by unexpected weather.
Despite these bombshells proving the entire scandal to be manufactured, Washington and the US media turned this weather accident into a diplomatic crisis, milking the incident to demonize China and depict it as a grave "threat”.
The nationwide freakout was reminiscent of crude propaganda from the first cold war, when the US government produced "Duck and Cover" films instructing students to hide under their desks in the case of a sudden Soviet nuclear strike, or when Hollywood churned out blockbuster movies imploring North Americans to suspect their neighbors of being dastardly Russian communist spies.
Today, the United States is waging a new, second cold war. Moscow is still a target, but this time Washington's main adversary is Beijing.
As CNN put it bluntly in February, "the Chinese balloon crisis could be a defining moment in the new Cold War”.
During the manufactured scandal, the US State Department claimed the "high altitude balloon’s equipment was clearly for intelligence surveillance”, and was “capable of conducting signals intelligence collection operations”.
The Pentagon referred to the rubber object as a "maneuverable Chinese surveillance balloon" that "violated U.S. airspace and international law, which is unacceptable".
The White House accused Beijing of operating a "global" espionage program, stating, "We know that these [Chinese] surveillance balloons have crossed over dozens of countries on multiple continents around the world, including some of our closest allies and partners".
Hawkish US politicians, like Republican Congressman Mike Gallagher, the chair of the House of Representatives' Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party, declared that the large rubber object "is a threat right here at home. It is a threat to American sovereignty, and it is a threat to the Midwest".
Fox News brought on air neoconservative activists from think tanks funded by the weapons industry, who argued that Beijing was using to balloon to spy on the US to "prepare the battlefield" for war.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg even claimed the rubber object was a threat to other Western governments.
While standing next to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Stoltenberg insisted, "The balloon over the United States confirms a pattern of Chinese behavior where we see that China has invested heavily in new capabilities, including different types of surveillance and intelligence platforms... We need to be aware of the constant risk of Chinese intelligence and step up what we do to protect ourselves and react in a prudent and responsible way".