Streetwise Professor

February 8, 2023

Balloon Excuses: The No Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Filed under: China,Military,Politics — cpirrong @ 2:55 pm

The embarrassment of this administration is ballooning, as if one could have thought that possible as bloated as it was already. Apparently in a belief that “Trump did it!” is kryptonite to any criticism, some anonymous DoD person told reporters that Chinese balloons had transited continental United States airspace on at least three occasions when the Donald the Dreaded was POTUS.

Virtually everyone in Trump’s national security upper echelons–including people who hate him, like Bolton and Esper–immediately called BS. They all said they were never informed of this. So what are the possibilities?

First, it never happened and this is just somebody making shit up to clean up after Joe. Always a real possibility.

Second, it did happen, and the balloons were detected in real time, but the DoD decided to withhold this information from the commander in chief. That would be a scandal of major proportions. And sad to say, it is believable.

Third, the administration’s elaboration: the previous balloons weren’t detected in real time, but they were uncovered after the fact by the intelligence agencies through some undisclosed means. Although all of these explanations are disturbing in their own way, this would be the worst. It would imply a gaping hole existed in US detection technology. Although the administration claims that THIS TIME they detected the balloon as soon as it passed over the Aleutians, and this suggests that the vulnerability has been addressed, we can’t be sure whether it’s just that NORAD got lucky this time.

There must be a public investigation, by Congress, to determine which of these explanations is the correct one.

With regards to the first explanation. Why did the WaPo rely on a single source for a story like this? Why won’t the Pentagon reveal who made the statement to the reporter? Note that the story–if it was true–would have involved the leak of highly classified information: a crime. If it wasn’t true, a “senior” official is spreading–wait for it–disinformation, supposedly the greatest threat to “our democracy.” Either alternative is unacceptable, and should result in the investigation, termination, and perhaps prosecution of the perpetrator. And he should be identified immediately while these steps are proceeding.

Letting the balloon traipse from Alaska to South Carolina (apparently on a tour of US nuclear facilities) is bad enough for the reasons discussed in my earlier post. But this clumsy attempt to exonerate Biden through whataboutism (“whatabout Trump!!!”) makes things even worse. It reveals the US military and Department of Defense to be incompetent, mendacious, or both.

Biden didn’t say anything either at a shout or a whisper about the balloon in his State of the Union address. He obviously wants this to go away. It can not be allowed to go away. It is a national security embarrassment of the first order, and Austin, Milley, the head of NORAD, and the head(s) of the intelligence agency or agencies that allegedly discovered previous violations of US airspace ex post facto must be hauled in front of Congress for a public grilling.

And then, perhaps, keel hauled.

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  1. Just how bad is the current US regime? I suppose judgement will hang on whether it manages to provoke a nuclear war involving Russia.

    Comment by dearieme — February 9, 2023 @ 10:53 am

  2. @dearieme–It is bad, but I do not know if we have fully plumbed the depths of its awfulness.

    Comment by cpirrong — February 9, 2023 @ 5:32 pm

  3. So the US govt is lying. No change there.
    The Chinese are lying. No change – expected from commies.
    But is it all a conspiracy or a common or garden F up?

    Weather balloons get sent up all the time. They go above the lower bound of the jet stream, then anything can blow them off course.
    Chine met bods don’t want to admit to their CCP handlers they’ve let a balloon go out of control. It wanders wher it will be sent by natural forces, the jet stream.
    US met bods / radar ops spot a weather balloon. Is it one of ours? Call around and get conflicting responses (we lost one last week…).

    Lost CCP weather balloon goes up XY levels of CCP bureaucracy. How to spin this? Eventually some bright bod decides to float the idea it’s a spy balloon.
    US defence bureaucracy (always hungry for another trillion dollars) agrees it’s a CCP spy balloon.

    US Air Force shoots down CCP spy balloon. Yay! Score one for Uncle Sam!

    Needless to say, I have no expertise in the matter, but this is a scenario / semi plausible explanation, and I suggest that others should try to shoot it down.

    Comment by philip — February 9, 2023 @ 7:22 pm

  4. We have always been at war with EastAsia. Even when we imitate them with lockdowns, movement restrictions, “essential workers”, school propaganda, cancel culture, vaccine mandates…

    Comment by philip — February 9, 2023 @ 7:30 pm

  5. @cpirrong Professor, have you seen Naftali Bennett‘s recent interview? What do you think of his claim that Western leaders stopped negotiations between Russia and Ukraine, which had big chances of producing peace deal, in order to inflict maximum harm on Putin?

    Comment by mmt — February 10, 2023 @ 2:41 am

  6. “they’re not going to get into the forensics as to how they found out about the ‘previous’ balloons.”


    Comment by elmer — February 10, 2023 @ 8:58 pm

  7. Now it’s aliens.
    Might we be trolled by the shade of H L Mencken?

    Comment by philip — February 13, 2023 @ 4:29 pm

  8. USAF fire a million dollar missile at a slow moving huge bag of gas
    … and miss!
    This story gets more enchanting every day. Next the USA will be bombing gingerbread houses.

    Comment by philip — February 14, 2023 @ 6:17 pm

  9. @ philip

    I don’t think it’s as easy as you’d expect for a jet to shoot down a balloon. The balloon’s at an altitude of 100,000 feet or so, and your jet is no higher than 65,000 feet, i.e. the balloon is higher than the jet like airliners are higher than the ground.

    Presumably gunfire won’t because your gun doesn’t have seven miles’ range, which I guess leaves missiles. The missile can probably do about 3,000mph, but it’s only got about 30 miles’ range (30 to 40 seconds’ flight time). It’s going to use what, a third? a half of that? climbing to the required altitude, and then if it misses first time and needs to go round again I am guessing it will burn out.

    So it is probably harder than it looks. It is reminiscent though of W’s remark about using a ten million dollar missile to hit a Afghan’s camel in the ass.

    There was a TV program a few years back made by this bloke who did sort-of-adult things with childhood toys. One involved flying a model-builder’s type of glider across the Channel. Gadgets like an accelerometer, GPS tracker etc are so small now that it was easy to get this thing to follow a course then on arrival, circle the objective until it landed. It must be equally easy to release a balloon upwind, have it transmit its data back to base, and then crash itself by venting gas once it’s passed the target and is somewhere irretrievable.

    Comment by Green as Grass — February 15, 2023 @ 4:17 am

  10. “once it’s passed the target”: but there’s no guarantee it will fly over its target. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth.

    Comment by dearieme — February 15, 2023 @ 5:02 pm

  11. Green as Grass – that’d be James May, Toy Stories. They ended up not going across the Channel, ‘cos Les Frogs, but Bristol to Lundy.

    Still, surprisingly accurate for dirt cheap tech.

    Comment by Ducky McDuckface — February 16, 2023 @ 2:09 pm

  12. Once you realize we are occupied and not voting our way out of this, you will get a better night’s sleep.

    Comment by Joe Waljer — February 16, 2023 @ 6:08 pm

  13. A month has gone by & it is easier to see the whole balloon episode as sound & fury signifying just short of nothing. It started in a slow news period & got lost in DC media performances. Very tiresome & a little dangerous to watch mainly ignorant politicians on both sides trying to out-tough each other on China. China presents many problems but this episode was a good sate of time & breath.

    Comment by Ty — March 12, 2023 @ 12:51 pm

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