Even though the Chinese balloon that traveled over the United States has been shot down now, there are just as many, if not more, questions about it that remain. And it’s uncertain whether we’ll ever find out the complete truth.
The news that a Chinese balloon was hovering over Montana was shocking at first. But China’s explanation, that it was a weather balloon gone astray, sounded at least superficially plausible at first. Then we started hearing that this wasn’t the first time something like this has happened with a Chinese balloon. And we were told that Pentagon officials had noticed that the balloon had the ability to maneuver and change course.
Stories about the balloons have been full of conflicting details. We’ve been told that these balloons were detected three times during the Trump administration but that Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis may have elected not to tell President Trump about it, for fear of him doing something aggressive towards China.
We’ve also heard that there have been well more than three of these balloons, and that they’ve been used around sensitive US military facilities. And we’ve heard that the US lacks the ability to detect many of these balloons and has failed to see quite a few of them, given the gaps in NORAD’s coverage. If that’s the case, then how do we know about these previous incidents? Will we ever get a straight story?
Now that the first images of the balloon’s recovery are circulating, we can assume that the military and intelligence communities will go over everything they can find with a fine-toothed comb. Was the balloon really a weather balloon? Was it engaged in signals intelligence operations? Did it have the ability to communicate with Beijing? To jam electronic communications?
Given the number of conflicting details we’ve received so far about the history of these balloons, it’s highly unlikely that we’ll ever get the full scoop from the US government. And it certainly seems as though the Air Force could use this incident as a way to drum up more funding for NORAD’s tracking activities. But if it does turn out that this balloon was involved in espionage, China is going to have a lot of splainin’ to do.
The more details that come out, the more unlikely it seems that Chinese “weather” balloons just happened to go off course near US military facilities. And China firing the head of its weather service isn’t going to sell that story any better. Maybe that Air Force general was right in predicting that we’ll be at war with China by 2025. And what we’re witnessing right now with respect to Chinese surveillance and espionage could just be China preparing and setting the stage, while Americans remain blissfully unaware that anything is going on.