Canada Monitoring ‘Potential Second Incident’ Linked to Suspected Chinese Spy Balloon Flagged by US

Canada Monitoring ‘Potential Second Incident’ Linked to Suspected Chinese Spy Balloon Flagged by US
In this picture obtained from social media, a balloon flies in the sky over Billings, Montana, on Feb. 1, 2023. (Chase Doak/via Reuters)
Mimi Nguyen Ly

Canada announced on Thursday it is coordinating with the United States to track a spy balloon high above the earth and that it was also monitoring a “potential second incident.”

Canada’s Department of National Defence announced that the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD)—a combined organization of the United States and Canada—is actively tracking a “high-altitude surveillance balloon.” The announcement reiterated what the Pentagon announced earlier on Thursday.

The statement went on to say: “Canadians are safe and Canada is taking steps to ensure the security of its airspace, including the monitoring of a potential second incident.

“NORAD, the Canadian Armed Forces, the Department of National Defence, and other partners have been assessing the situation and working in close coordination,” it added.

“Canada’s intelligence agencies are working with American partners and continue to take all necessary measures to safeguard Canada’s sensitive information from foreign intelligence threats.

“We remain in frequent contact with our American allies as the situation develops.”

The official Canadian and U.S. statements did not reference that the spy balloon is suspected to come from China. However, a senior Pentagon official told reporters on condition of anonymity that the department has a “very high confidence” that the balloon comes from China.

The balloon flew over northwest United States—the site of sensitive airbases and strategic nuclear missiles, with the state of Montana being one of the three homes for U.S. siloed nuclear weapons.

“Clearly the intent of this balloon is for surveillance,” the senior defense official said. “And so the current flight path does carry it over a number of sensitive sites.”

“First, our best assessment at the moment is that whatever the surveillance payload is on this balloon, it does not create significant value added over and above what the [People’s Republic of China] is likely able to collect through things like satellites in Low Earth Orbit,” the official said.

“But out of an abundance of caution, we have taken additional mitigation steps. I’m not going to go into what those are. But we know exactly where this balloon is, exactly what it is passing over. And we are taking steps to be extra vigilant so that we can mitigate any foreign intelligence risk.”

The official added that Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on Wednesday had convened senior Pentagon leadership to determine whether the balloon should be shot down.

But the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, and the commander of NORTHCOM, Gen. Glen VanHerck, strongly recommended “not to take kinetic action due to the risk to safety and security of people on the ground from the possible debris field.”

The senior defense official said they have raised the issue with Chinese counterparts “with urgency” through “their embassy here in Washington and through our embassy in Beijing.”

“We have communicated to them the seriousness with which we take this issue,” the official stated, adding: “But we have made clear we will do whatever is necessary to protect our people and our homeland. And so if the risk profile that I described earlier, if that changes, we will have options to deal with this balloon.”

Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said Beijing was “verifying” the situation regarding the surveillance balloon. “Until the facts are clarified, speculation and hype will not be helpful to the proper resolution of the issue,” she told a regular daily briefing in Beijing on Friday.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) announced on Twitter he is requesting a Gang of Eight meeting in relation to the suspected Chinese spy balloon. “China’s brazen disregard for U.S. sovereignty is a destabilizing action that must be addressed, and President [Joe] Biden cannot be silent,” he added.

The congressional “Gang of Eight“—a colloquial term—includes the House speaker, House minority leader, Senate majority leader, as well as the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate intelligence committees. The members are responsible for congressional oversight of all intelligence agencies and are briefed on classified intelligence matters by the executive branch.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said: “A Chinese spy balloon over the U.S. is alarming but not surprising.

“The level of espionage aimed at our country by Beijing has grown dramatically more intense & brazen over the last 5 years,” he wrote on Twitter.

Meanwhile, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said on Twitter that U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken “should cancel his trip to China.” Blinken is expected to travel to meet Chinese leader Xi Jinping in the coming days. Cotton also said on Twitter that Biden “must answer why he has not secured U.S. airspace.”

Reuters contributed to this report.