February 4, 2023 US shoots down Chinese spy balloon off East Coast

By Kathleen Magramo, Andrew Raine, Matt Meyer, Adrienne Vogt and Tori B. Powell, CNN

Updated 12:45 AM ET, Sun February 5, 2023
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2:33 a.m. ET, February 4, 2023

Another Chinese spy balloon is above 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.

12:00 a.m. ET, February 4, 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:

What else we know about the balloon: The US Defense Department knows the suspected surveillance balloon floating over the northern US “has the ability to maneuver," Ryder said. He did not specify how, but did say Friday the balloon “has changed its course which, again, is why we’re monitoring it.”

In terms of size, Ryder 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.

"In terms of the size, I'm not able to get into the specifics other than to say that it is big enough that, again, in reviewing our approach, we do recognize that any potential debris field would be significant and potentially cause civilian injuries or deaths, or significant property damage," Ryder said Friday.

Pentagon officials said they expect it to continue to pass over the US for the next couple days.

12:00 a.m. ET, February 4, 2023

Here's everything we know so far about the suspected Chinese surveillance balloon in US airspace

From CNN staff

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 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.
11:57 p.m. ET, February 3, 2023

Blinken postpones trip to China in light of suspected spy balloon

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken 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.”

He said now officials are focused on "getting the surveillance asset out of 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."

CNN's Jennifer Hansler contributed to this post.

11:56 p.m. ET, February 3, 2023

Biden was first briefed Tuesday on suspected Chinese surveillance balloon, White House says

From CNN's DJ Judd, Betsy Klein, Phil Mattingly, Natasha Bertrand, Alex Marquardt and MJ Lee

President Joe Biden was first briefed Tuesday on the suspected Chinese surveillance balloon that is hovering over the US, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.

The president has since "continued to receive regular briefings and updates from the National Security Team," she said.

Jean-Pierre described how the decision-making process worked, saying that after being briefed, Biden asked "the military to present options—it was the strong recommendation by Secretary Austin, Chairman Milley, the commander of Northern Command not to take kinetic action because of the risk to safety and security of the people on the ground."

"President Biden took that recommendation of the military seriously — of his advisers, clearly. The President will always put the security and security of the American people first," Jean-Pierre added.

Briefings to Congress: 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 balloon, according to a spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

Congress has been briefed on China’s “surveillance balloon activities” in the past, the official said, including a briefing for “key committees” that took place last August, a White House official told CNN.  

Staff members for the top Republican and Democratic members of the House and Senate intelligence committee were briefed Thursday afternoon, and the official added that Department of Defense and State Department officials briefed leadership staff and national security staff on Friday. The administration has “also provided additional detail in writing.”