Let’s get a grip on ‘spy balloons’ saga

The sudden appearance of these objects doesn't mean some global — or otherworldly — power is suddenly swarming America.



February 17, 2023 - 2:26 PM

A Chinese spy balloon shortly before it was shot down over Surfside Beach, South Carolina, on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023. (Joe Granita/Zuma Press/TNS)

It looked like something out of a Hollywood sci-fi flick: the White House press secretary assuring a roomful of reporters that there is “no indication of aliens.” Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre had to make that startling pronouncement this week because a top general had earlier declined to rule out the possibility that extraterrestrials are behind a string of mysterious objects the U.S. military has shot out of the sky lately.

Everyone needs to get a grip. The sudden appearance of these objects doesn’t mean some global (or otherworldly) power is suddenly swarming America. It’s more likely the military is seeing them now because it’s looking for them in the wake of the incursion by the Chinese spy balloon earlier this month. The most recent ones could yet turn out to be benign. Should more of them appear, President Joe Biden should carefully consider whether this shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later approach is really the best one — and he should make sure it’s not just a knee-jerk reaction to predictable Republican bluster.

The strange saga began at the end of January, when a 200-foot balloon carrying a large equipment array traversed from Alaska to the northwestern U.S. to the east coast over eight days. The U.S. military shot the object down off the South Carolina coast Feb. 4. While the Chinese government continues to claim, improbably, that it was a scientific balloon that blew off course, the recovered equipment indicates it was designed for spying.

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