The Pentagon said late Friday that it had observed another Chinese spy balloon, this one in Latin America, just hours after revealing that a similar balloon from China was making its way across the continental United States.
Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. General Pat Ryder said the Department of Defense was aware of reports of another balloon “in transit over Latin America. We now assess that it is another Chinese surveillance balloon.” He did not provide further details about its location.
Earlier on Friday, the Pentagon said it would not attempt to remove the balloon into US airspace because «any potential debris field would be significant» and could cause «significant civilian injury or death or property damage,» but did not provide a plan to respond. to the slow violation of «US airspace and international law.»
The huge balloon has sparked domestic curiosities, political finger-pointing and an international diplomatic crisis, leaving Americans in the middle of the country looking to the skies for the white hovercraft.
It is unknown where it will go, and whether the US military will ultimately choose to shoot it out of the sky, but authorities have confirmed that it continues to move east across the continental United States and dismiss Beijing’s insistence that it is a Exploded weather balloon. off track.
The United States is taking steps to weaken its surveillance capabilities, including using counterintelligence measures to hide its views and physically move things out of its way, two senior defense officials told NBC News on Friday.
Earlier, a senior US defense official said the US assessed the balloon «has limited additive value from an intelligence-gathering perspective beyond what it [China] You can do it by other means.
On Friday afternoon, Ryder told reporters that the Pentagon «will continue to monitor and review options.»
«The balloon continues to move eastward and is currently over the center of the continental United States,» he said, adding that «we currently assess that the balloon does not present a military or physical threat to people on the ground at this time.»
Asked if he was concerned that some Americans might try to «interfere» with the balloon, presumably by intercepting or trying to shoot it down, Ryder noted that the balloon is flying at an altitude of about 60,000 feet, which is about 11 miles above the ground. . It is «well above the range of civilian air traffic,» he said.
The Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement that it was working with the Pentagon «to support any necessary response from the United States government.»
“The balloon currently does not represent a danger to civil aviation. If that changes, the FAA is prepared to take action,» the agency said.
The Chinese government recognized that the ship over the US «is from China».
“It is a civil airship that is used for research purposes, mainly meteorological,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement on its website. He said the balloon «deviated greatly from its planned course» due to high winds and a lack of steering ability.
Ryder replied, «The fact is, we know it’s a surveillance balloon.»
«He has the ability to maneuver,» he said, declining to elaborate.
The US military had been monitoring the balloon for days, US officials and a top defense official told NBC News on Thursday.
The Pentagon assessed the balloon to be about the size of at least two school buses, a US official said.
It was seen over Billings, Montana, on Wednesday, and had flown over Alaska’s Aleutian Islands and across Canada to get there, authorities said. The destination is notable because Montana is home to one of America’s three nuclear missile silo fields.
Ryder declined to give the exact location of the balloon on Friday.
Sen. Roger Marshall, a Kansas Republican, said Friday afternoon that the balloon was over his state. «I can confirm that the Chinese spy balloon is over NE KS. My staff are in contact with law enforcement officials,» he said. tweetedadding: «I condemn any attempt by the Chinese to spy on the Americans.»
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman later said: «We have no intent to violate and have never violated the territory or airspace of any sovereign country. Some US politicians and media have exaggerated this to attack and slander China.»
The discovery has raised tensions between the US and China, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken postponing a planned trip to Beijing.
“We have concluded that conditions are not right at this time for Secretary Blinken to travel to China,” a senior State Department official said.
Blinken confirmed the postponement during a press conference on Friday, but said that «we will remain committed to the People’s Republic of China.» [People’s Republic of China] as this ongoing issue is resolved. The first step is to get the surveillance asset out of our space. And that’s what we’re focused on.»
Ryder told reporters Friday that the balloon’s presence «violated US airspace and international law, which is unacceptable. We have conveyed this directly to the PRC on multiple levels.»
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre made similar comments when asked about the balloon at a briefing on Friday afternoon. President Joe Biden has not yet ruled on the matter.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin convened a meeting of senior military and defense leaders Wednesday, including Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley and NORTHCOM/NORAD Commander General Glen VanHerck to discuss military options. to bring down the balloon.
Pentagon leaders presented those options to Biden on Wednesday, and he was given a «strong recommendation» not to shoot down the balloon, a senior administration official told NBC on Thursday.
The official said the administration «acted immediately to guard against the collection of sensitive information» sought by the balloon, noting that this was not the first time this had happened.
“Instances of this activity have been observed in recent years, even before this administration,” the official said.
When asked about those previous cases on Friday, Ryder declined to comment on details, citing the classified nature of those events, but acknowledged that «there have been incidents in the past.»
Sen. Jon Tester, a Montana Democrat and chairman of the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, announced Friday that he would hold a hearing on the Biden administration’s response to the balloon appearing over his state.
“I am demanding answers from the Biden Administration,” Tester said in a statement. «I will bring people before my committee to get real answers about how this happened and how we can prevent it from happening again.»
Several Republican lawmakers also criticized the administration’s response, with Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton saying Biden “should stop coddling and appeasing the Chinese communists. He takes the balloon down now and exploits his tech package, which could be an intelligence bonanza.”
Staff members of the so-called Gang of Eight, a bipartisan group of leaders in Congress, received a classified briefing Thursday afternoon on the globe, three sources familiar with NBC told Friday.
A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., said lawmakers in the group would receive an in-person briefing from the administration next week.