A Chinese spy balloon is hovering over the United States. It was spotted high above Montana, where the U.S. military has a nuclear missile silo The Pentagon is tracking this problem closely and says it does not pose a military.
Or physical threat. We're told the balloon is the size of three busses. A senior defense official says President Biden has been advised to not shoot it down because the falling debris could hurt people on the ground.
The balloons discovery is rattling Capitol Hill. We're now learning that staff members for the Gang of Eight have received a briefing. Joining us now on all of this is our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto.
Jim, good morning. Wow. Listen, it's a slow moving Chinese surveillance balloon floating over the Continental. Continental the U.S. is understandably disturbing. My understanding is that as of last night, it hadn't left us airspace.
So here's what we know so far. First of all, this is an image captured from the ground. It was visible with the naked eye flying at about 65,000 feet, about twice as high as commercial aircraft. But much lower than.
Surveillance satellites, as you were saying, going in the size of three busses. Two flights were diverted for safety. Military leaders considered, but ultimately decided against the president's decision to shoot it down. But the idea.
That that was under consideration shows just how seriously US officials and the president were taking the idea of a Chinese spy balloon floating over the US. You mentioned what it was flying over, right, Montana Malmstrom Air Base.
That has ICBMs there. So something that China would naturally be interested in taking a closer look at. This happened before. Jim? It has. It has happened before over U.S. territory before. But here's something.
I do want to note in terms of surveillance capabilities. This was not a big jump in what China is able to see. Why is that? Because China is flying spy satellites over the US. Every 90 minutes is the orbit the Earth. And those satellites have at least equal.
Surveillance capabilities. They're highly advanced. So in terms of what China could gather from this balloon, not an enormous step forward. And by the way, we should note this, and this is something to be concerned about, is that China is one of the most active.
In terms of launching new satellites Just look at the growth going back to just six single digits in the 2000. Now they're up close to 100 per year. The only other country competing with that, frankly, is the U.S.. And as you add it all.
Up, in terms of satellites, China is second to the U.S. in terms of what they have floating above there right now. Again, all looking down at the US gathering intelligence is all the time. I spoke to a number of U.S. officials last night.
So this is not a big gain in terms of surveillance, but it is in terms of audacity to fly a slow moving surveillance balloon over the continent, not continental US and no the US. The president, you and I could see it as it's happening.
Yeah. And just before the Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, goes to meet with high ranking Chinese officials. Certainly going to change the discussion there, Jim. Absolutely. And by the way, as you know, Poppy, those decisions are not made by accident.
You can see that perhaps a message to the U.S. secretary of state as he prepares to go to Beijing. All right, Jim, thank you very much. Joining us now for more perspective on this is the former defense secretary under former President Trump, Mark Esper.
Thank you so much for being here with us this morning. I guess the number one question I have is when the White House makes the decision not to shoot it down, do you agree with that decision? What kind of options do they have here? Well, first of all, I'm surprised by this.
I think it is a brazen act by the Chinese to do this. We were just talking about whether or not it has more or less intelligence value than what they currently have. I don't think we know. And so my interest would be not necessarily shooting it down,.
But bringing bringing it down. So that we can capture the equipment and understand exactly what they do. They're doing are they taking pictures? Are they intercepting signals? What are they doing? And what is the level of technical capability? It will tell us a lot.
About what they're trying to do. What they're trying to learn and what their capability is of doing that now. Failing that, I would definitely shoot it down provided that there's no risk to people on the ground. Yeah. So you are surprised.
That this is just hovering over the continental U.S. Oh, absolutely. Not just the continental United States, but over our, you know, our missile fields and our strategic bomber bases. And so that's a great concern to me that they are collecting.
Intelligence and look, they obviously are looking for something. They need information that I would assume they can't get through satellites. And so that's why I would be very interested in getting hold of this. Whatever the payload is and understanding exactly what they're looking for and why.
And then, of course, it gives us a good sense of their level of technological capability. The Chinese have been spying on us for years, for decades. We know the FBI tells us that, what, every 12 hours they open up an espionage case.
To me, this is a brazen act. And so at the political level, we have to push back. We have to defend American sovereignty, and we have to make clear to the Chinese that we're not going to tolerate this. Is that your sense of why it would be flying over Montana because of that air base.
That maintains and operates those intercontinental ballistic missiles? Well, that would be my first guest. But until we know what type of instrumentation they have in the payload, we wouldn't know for sure. There are other facilities.
Or things we do in that part of the country. So that's why I would want to get a hold that technology and find out. But again, that's at the intelligence level. At the political level, we have to send a very strong message back.
That we won't tolerate this behavior. And now, look, maybe there's a counterintelligence value that we see by letting it pass overhead. Maybe there's there's always more to this than, you know, than meets the eye. And I wouldn't be privy to that now. So I give the Pentagon some room here. But those are the big questions.
That I think people should ask members of Congress should be asking as they dig into this further. What kind of options does the US have for responding, for sending the message that you think they should send Well, again, first, either.
Capturing the equipment or shooting it down would be a strong message. There's obviously a demarche of the country, but we should again increase our activities as well. You know, recall when Speaker Pelosi visited.
Taiwan last summer, the Chinese ramped up their crossings of the Taiwan central line with both ships and aircraft. And I never got the sense that we responded forcefully back. You got to match the Chinese head to head. We can't be self deterred.
And we can't let the Chinese Communist Party push us around. They will only respond to resolve, to commitment. And we need to show that when we're facing off against Beijing. Mark, as we were reporting on this yesterday, we heard from the Pentagon.
And they say this is actually happened before during the last administration when you were defense secretary, during that time period. Were you aware of this? How was it resolved What can you tell us about that? I read that I was surprised.
I don't ever recall somebody coming into my office or reading anything that the Chinese had a surveillance balloon above the United States. And you would obviously know that if that had happened when you were defense secretary.
I would remember that for sure. I mean, my focus was on implementing the national defense strategy to take on the Chinese as the greatest strategic threat facing our country. So I was keen on everything Chinese. We set up a red cell within the Pentagon to deal with that.
We reorient reoriented the military's doctrine and how we train and fight all those things focused on the Chinese. So I would be very curious as to why Chinese surveillance balloons overflying the United States. So that would have caught my attention for sure.
I don't recall it ever happening. If you were at the Pentagon and this did happen and the secretary of state was out to go on a trip to China. What would your advice to the secretary of state be? Would you say, to cancel the trip? Would you say.
To make sure this is the first thing they bring up? What would your advice be? Well, I suspect Secretary Pompeo shared my views as well with regard to China, and I don't know how he would have reacted.
I mean, sometimes you call off trips like this or sometimes you go you go prepared to give a very, very strong statement of of China, China violating our sovereignty. And so there are different ways to approach this.
And it just depends on the broader dynamics. And look. On the other hand, I think the Pentagon made a good move with regard to expanding our access to Philippine bases. This was something that we were working on during my tenure.
At the Pentagon, as well as how do you expand U.S. access to bases in the Philippines. And it's very good that we've done that because it allows us to dress to address military,.
Chinese military capabilities in case war breaks out. Do you think in the Indo-Pacific, do you think Blinken should cancel his trip That's an option that should be considered. But I think we need to know more and we need to assess what's happening.
In the broader context. Curiously, the Chinese are not outright denying it as they would typically do. They're saying, well, we would never violate someone's sovereignty. So the way they're playing this is quite curious to me as well.
What does it say to you about the state of U.S. China relations right now that they would take an act that you described as brazen? Is this Well, it's not. Well, the relations are not good. They have not been good for.
For some time, certainly in the months leading up to Xi Jinping's seizure of its of a third term as chairman of the party last October. But, look, they're not getting better. He's he's tried to change his tack a little bit,.
Realizing that Chinese foreign policy isn't playing well in the international community. But I don't think we should be I don't think we should be fooled by what they're doing. They have an aggressive plan to build a modern military over the next decade.
And they they stated that their aim by 20, 49 is to dominate the Indo-Pacific if not the global order and change the rules and norms. And so that is their their grand strategy. And we need to be cognizant of that and do everything we can.
To push back on this, to try and change their behavior.
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But, does it smells like Chemical Weapons?. 😅