The secrets of the mysterious crafts floating across America are now buried forever under the sea ice of northern Alaska, the wilds of the Yukon, and the choppy, gray-white waters of Lake Huron.
Amazingly, it was too cold, and the weather conditions too harsh, for the United States military—which had no trouble blasting the balloons out of the sky—to keep looking for their debris. Late last Friday, the U.S. Northern Command, part of the Department of Defense, called off the search.
So we’re left not knowing—for sure—where they came from, or what they were looking for, or what they found. We can’t even confirm whether they were all Chinese or all balloons.
The only clue to the objects that descended on us from out of the blue is two words uttered by the president of the United States: private companies.
Last week, Biden told the world the balloons are probably “tied to private companies, recreation or research institutions studying weather or conducting other scientific research.”
“[N]othing right now suggests they were related to China’s spy balloon program or that they were surveillance vehicles from any other country.”
Which suggests it could be any old company from Peoria or Stockholm or wherever doing something anodyne like researching wind patterns or sending fried chicken into the stratosphere.
What the president didn’t say is that the balloons were likely dispatched by a Chinese company that’s not at all a company in the way Americans imagine them, but really, an extension of the Chinese military intelligence regime.
First things first—what are the odds China is behind all this?
Consider that there is a lot of stuff up there from countries around the world, including the United States—mostly balloons that collect topographic data, gauge weather patterns, and enhance our communications.
In 2022, that stuff included 366 unidentified aerial phenomena, or UAPs, floating above the United States. Most of them were perfectly innocuous, but 171 could not be explained.
Still, the United States Air Force chose not to fire a missile (price tag per missile: $400,000 to $450,000) at any of those. (Or, at least, there were no reports of that having happened.)
Not this time.
That’s because right before the three recent mysterious UAPs turned up, there was another UAP—and pretty much everyone now agrees that that one was a Chinese spy balloon. On February 4, an F-22 blew it up off the coast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
“We detected a Chinese balloon, and then we opened the scope and found more,” said Ryan Graves, a former F/A-18 Super Hornet Navy pilot who recorded more than 100 encounters with UAPs while patrolling the Eastern Seaboard of the United States a decade ago. “It’s certainly tied together.”
I asked Miles Yu, the China-born director of the Hudson Institute’s China Center, whether he thought there is a world in which the mysterious flying objects were not working for Chinese intelligence.
“Impossible,” Yu told me. “The Chinese government can and does exert significant influence over any private enterprise, far beyond what the U.S. could do.”
Retired U.S. Admiral James Stavridis, a former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, added: “In China, there is a very close nexus between commercial companies at every level and the People’s Liberation Army.”
Graves, the former Navy pilot, noted that the United States has already gathered a lot of information about the balloons—and our decision to take them out suggests that whatever we know isn’t good.
……Ron Garan, a former NASA astronaut who spent six months in space and another three years leading a high-altitude balloon company, believes the flying objects were “rogue balloons.”
The balloons’ operator, in China, probably lost control of them, and then their self-destruct mechanism failed, Garan said. He was amazed by Beijing’s response to the whole saga. First, the Chinese expressed regret; then, after we blew up balloon No. 1, they became angry; then, they went off about all the spy balloons the U.S. has sent to China—all of which exacerbated our already tense relations. “China couldn’t possibly think they could get away with it,” Garan said.
“Rogue” or not, that spy balloon picked up a lot of information as Biden allowed it to traverse the country and took his sweet time ordering a shootdown.