(WASHINGTON) — U.S. officials say a massive surveillance balloon believed to be from China and seen above Montana is being tracked as it flies over the continental United States.
“The United States government has detected and is tracking a high-altitude surveillance balloon that is flying over the continental United States right now,” Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said in a statement on Thursday. “NORAD [North American Aerospace Defense Command] continues to track and monitor it closely.”
China’s foreign ministry has claimed it is a civilian balloon used for meteorological purposes, but U.S. politicians, many on the right, are already demanding President Joe Biden shoot it down.
Here’s how the news is developing. All times Eastern:
Feb 03, 2:16 PM EST
Biden first briefed Tuesday, took military’s recommendation on balloon: WH
President Joe Biden was first briefed about the Chinese surveillance balloon on Tuesday, according to White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, two days before the news was publicly confirmed by U.S. officials.
“He asked the military to present options,” she told reporters in a gaggle on Air Force One. “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 from the military seriously.”
“The president will always put the safety of the security of the American people first,” she said.
Jean-Pierre said Biden continues to receive regular briefings from national security team, and that he “agreed” with Secretary of State Blinken’s decision to delay his trip to China.
“We are tracking closely and keeping all options on the table,” the press secretary said.
Feb 03, 1:41 PM EST
Biden again ignores questions on Chinese balloon
President Joe Biden didn’t answer questions reporters shouted about the Chinese surveillance balloon as he left the White House and boarded Marine One shortly after 1 p.m. Friday.
Biden has yet to publicly comment on the balloon since it was confirmed to be flying over the continental U.S. by officials on Thursday.
Biden is heading to Philadelphia, where he and Vice President Kamala Harris will appear at an infrastructure event in the afternoon and then later will speak at the Democratic National Committee’s winter meeting.
Feb 03, 1:27 PM EST
‘Gang of 8’ staff received classified briefing on Chinese surveillance balloon
Staff to the so-called “Gang of 8” received a classified briefing on the balloon by the administration Thursday afternoon, according to multiple congressional officials.
The “Gang of 8” refers to the group of congressional leaders who are briefed on classified intelligence matters. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., requested a meeting with the group on Thursday.
“China’s brazen disregard for U.S. sovereignty is a destabilizing action that must be addressed, and President Biden cannot be silent,” McCarthy said.
It’s unclear if the classified briefing for the staff is a precursor to their bosses being briefed. No meeting appears to be on the books so far.
-ABC News’ Trish Turner
Feb 03, 12:50 PM EST
Surveillance balloon is ‘maneuverable,’ Pentagon says
After saying the Chinese surveillance ballon was headed eastward, Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder said the balloon is “maneuverable.”
“So, the balloon is maneuverable. Clearly, it’s violated U.S. air space, and again we’ve communicated that fact to the PRC,” Ryder said.
“The balloon has changed its course, which is why we are monitoring it. That is as specific as I can get,” he said, not giving further details on how it could be maneuvered.
“We continue to assess and make appropriate decisions based on how we are going to address what we perceive as a potential threat,” Ryder added. “The safety and security of the American people is paramount. At this time we assess it does not pose a physical threat to people on the ground.”
Feb 03, 10:26 AM EST
Pentagon to hold press briefing at noon
Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder will conduct an on-camera press briefing at noon on Friday as the Biden administration faces questions about what U.S. officials call a Chinese surveillance balloon flying over the U.S.
Ryder said in a statement Thursday that the government was tracking the balloon and that it didn’t present a military threat.
“Instances of this kind of balloon activity have been observed previously over the past several years. Once the balloon was detected, the U.S. government acted immediately to protect against the collection of sensitive information,” Ryder said.
Feb 03, 9:36 AM EST
Secretary of state delays visit
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is postponing his visit to China after the balloon was tracked soaring across the country.
Blinken will delay his upcoming trip to Beijing, originally scheduled for next week. The official noted that Blinken did not want to blow the situation out of proportion by canceling his visit, but also does not want the balloon to dominate his meetings with Chinese officials.
Feb 03, 9:29 AM EST
China claims balloon is civilian in nature
The Chinese Foreign Ministry is saying the balloon is civilian in nature and used for scientific research, “mainly meteorological.”
“The airship is from China,” the foreign ministry said. “Affected by the Westerlies and with limited self-steering capability, the airship deviated far from its planned course. The Chinese side regrets the unintended entry of the airship into US airspace due to force majeure.”
It continued, “The Chinese side will continue communicating with the US side and properly handle this unexpected situation caused by force majeure.”
“Force majeure” refers to something that is done beyond the control of the government.
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