Pentagon: Chinese balloon over center of the US, Latin America

WASHINGTON — Pentagon officials on Friday reiterated that the Chinese balloon being tracked over the U.S. is “a surveillance balloon” after Chinese officials earlier called it a “civilian airship” used for research.

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Updated 10:47 p.m. EST Feb. 3: Pentagon spokesman, Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder, confirmed on Friday that a third suspected Chinese surveillance balloon was spotted over Latin America in addition to one over Canada and the United States, according to The Washington Post.

The North American Aerospace Defense Command earlier in the day Friday said that Canada was tracking a balloon as well that was believed to be Chinese, according to the Washington Post.

“We are seeing reports of a balloon transiting Latin America,” Ryder said in the statement to Bloomberg. “We now assess it is another Chinese surveillance balloon.  We have no further information to provide at this time.”

- Jessica Goodman, Cox Media Group National Content Desk

Original story: “The fact is, we know that it’s a surveillance balloon, and I’m not going to be able to be more specific than that,” Pentagon press secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said at a news conference. “We do know that the balloon has violated U.S. airspace and international law, which is unacceptable.”

Ryder declined to share the exact location of the balloon, which was spotted Thursday over Montana, though he said it was last assessed to be at about 60,000 feet.

“The balloon continues to move eastward and is currently over the center of the continental United States,” he said. He later added that officials expect “it will probably be over the U.S. for a few days.”

Officials with the National Weather Service’s office in Kansas City, Missouri, shared photos on social media Friday afternoon after fielding “several reports across northwest MO of a large balloon visible on the horizon.”

“We have confirmed that it is not an NWS weather balloon,” officials said.

Authorities did not immediately confirm that the balloon was the one being tracked by NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command.

Earlier Friday, officials with China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the Chinese balloon was a “civilian airship” used mainly for meteorological purposes and that it had been blown off course. They added that the balloon had “limited self-steering capability.”

Ryder said on Friday that the balloon had changed course and added that it is “a maneuverable craft.” Authorities continue to monitor its course, though Ryder said officials continue to believe it poses “no physical threat or military threat to people on the ground.”

The Pentagon press secretary said officials considered shooting down the balloon. He declined to say whether such a move remained under consideration on Friday.

“It is big enough that ... any potential debris field would be significant and potentially cause civilian injuries or deaths, or significant property damage,” he said.

“Out of an abundance of caution, cognizant of the potential impact to civilians on the ground from a debris field, right now we’re going to continue to monitor and review options.”

News of the balloon’s discovery came as Secretary of State Antony Blinken prepared to visit Beijing for the first time in his role. The trip was postponed on Friday.

“We concluded that conditions were not conducive for a constructive visit at this time,” Blinken said at a news conference Friday. He added that he plans to visit Beijing “when conditions allow.”

Before reaching the U.S. mainland, the balloon flew over Alaska’s Aleutian Islands and then over Canada, The Washington Post reported, citing an unidentified U.S. official. In a statement Thursday, Canadian authorities said they were monitoring “a potential second incident,” though they did not elaborate on the situation.