Home News by Region USA & Global Surveillance over Canada by high flying Chinese balloon

Surveillance over Canada by high flying Chinese balloon

Time frame: Thurs Feb 2 to Sun Feb 5, 2023

Sunday February 5, 2023 | VANCOUVER ISLAND, BC [Updated 8:40 pm]

Editorial analysis by Mary P Brooke | Island Social Trends

This past weekend there was a tsunami of news coverage across all media about the travels of a Chinese ‘weather balloon’ that made its way across the ocean to Alaska, down through Canada (BC and Alberta area it appears), into Montana and across the northern parts of the USA over to the Atlantic coast.

Yesterday, the US military shot it down just off the coast of South Carolina, within the 12 mile area of ocean that is considered US waters, and where the depth is only about 47 ft (15 metres). The debris field is reportedly about 10 miles long, being searched by underwater divers.

balloon, shot down
The Chinese surveillance balloon was shot down by the US air force on Sat Feb 4, 2023. [web]

The military waited from Wednesday (when President Joe Biden told them to shoot it down) until it was not over land where falling debris might have harmed people and property below. The President said on national media that he concurred with their approach for safety.

Those few days may have also been an opportunity for the United States to gather some intelligence of their own … what was the balloon at 65,000 feet (twice the altitude that passenger jets fly) doing exactly. Surveillance is already possible by satellites, so what else was going on?

CTV reported that a senior U.S. defence official said the US has “very high confidence” it is a Chinese high-altitude balloon, and said it was flying over sensitive sites to collect information.

It was reported that the Pentagon press secretary said on Thursday that the balloon was “travelling at an altitude well above commercial air traffic and does not present a military or physical threat to people on the ground.” He reportedly said similar balloon activity has been seen in the past several years.

Allowing the balloon to take a directed path (it was obviously not travelling a random) would also give USA intelligence some further indications of the Chinese government’s purpose of the exercise. The Pentagon said that the US took steps to ensure that the balloon did not collect sensitive information.

anthony blinken, us, balloon
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken cancelled his planned trip to China in the wake of the surveillance balloon incident.

There are missile silos in Montana, but also in other areas of the USA. The path across which the balloon traveled was over both highly dense populations as well as sparse.

The balloon was powered by solar panels and clearly ‘steered’ remotely with a ‘rudder’. The size of the equipment hanging from the balloon was reported as the length of about three school buses (about 100 ft or 30 meters). Reportedly the balloon lowered its altitude and changed its orientation when over landmarks of interest.

Germ warfare possibility?

No national media coverage has yet mentioned the possibility of a germ warfare (bio warfare) opportunity that the balloon might have posed to all the populations it flew over, including when the balloon was burst.

If that had been one of many considerations, it might further explain the pause to allow the balloon to complete its journey over land. And, by the way, how was there such a firm assumption that the balloon was in fact going to finish over land and reach water?

Flight path over western Canada:

CTV reported on February 2 the Department of National Defence says Canada is working with the United States to protect sensitive information from foreign intelligence threats after the high-altitude surveillance balloon was detected. “NORAD, the Canadian Armed Forces, the Department of National Defence, and other partners have been assessing the situation and working in close co-ordination,” said the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces in a joint statement Thursday night. 

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“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.”

News coverage by CNN this weekend made barely a mention that the Chinese surveillance balloon went over a significant patch of Canada before heading over Montana and east to the Atlantic. Suspicious surveillance is just as unwelcome here, north of the US border. The path (according to various media) included over British Columbia and Alberta; some reports also mentioned Saskatchewan.

As of Sunday night, there is not much revealed publicly about the presumed reasoning of the path over Canada. Here in British Columbia, we should note that it took a route along what resembles the border of BC and Alberta, before crossing over into the US northwest.

On CTV this evening, one security expert said that he believed that the balloon was not even detected over Canada’s north. There could have been an option to shoot it down over relatively uninhabited land at that point, he said.

On Friday, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre said: “It’s outrageous, it’s very concerning that a hostile foreign government had a spy balloon in our airspace and that it continued to transit into the northwestern United States. We as Canadians should never tolerate espionage by a foreign regime and we should work with our partners in the United States to hold the regime in Beijing accountable.”

More than one balloon:

According to CNN, Blinken said that the US is confident the balloon over the US is a Chinese surveillance balloon, and the Pentagon said Friday evening that there is another Chinese spy balloon that is currently transiting Latin America.

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Apart from the play-by-play excitement of following this news, people in North America have now been racheted up yet another notch in terms of the stress of living in this complex world where everything is watched and monitored.

Political relations:

This event will certainly have soured Canada-Chinese relations (that have been rocky at best since the ‘two Michaels’ incident a few years ago), as well as USA-China relations (significantly both nuclear powers).

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was about to travel to China this weekend for some prearranged meetings. Like in a game of ‘who blinks first’, China will have now observed that the USA was going to play it safe, when Blinken cancelled his trip due to the spy balloon episode.

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Island Social Trends emerged in mid-2020 from a preceding series of publications by founder/editor Mary P Brooke and published by Brookeline Publishing House Inc.

The series is, so far: MapleLine Magazine (2008-2010), Sooke Voice News (2011-2013), and West Shore Voice News (2014-2020), and Island Social Trends (2020 to present).