Speed Reads

eyes to the skies

Pentagon monitoring suspected Chinese surveillance balloon over the U.S.

A surveillance balloon has spent the last several days hovering above the continental United States, a Pentagon spokesman confirmed on Thursday, and is being tracked by the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD).

This is a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon, U.S. officials told NBC News and The Washington Post, and the military briefly discussed shooting it down.

Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder, a Pentagon spokesman, said on Thursday the balloon is "well above commercial air traffic and does not present a military or physical threat to people on the ground. Instances of this kind of balloon activity have been observed previously over the past several years. Once the balloon was detected, the U.S. government acted immediately to prevent against the collection of sensitive information."

Ryder would not share the balloon's current location. Officials told the Post the balloon was spotted Wednesday over Montana, where there are several nuclear missile silos, and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin later held a meeting with senior defense officials to talk about the situation and whether it was feasible to shoot down the balloon. Several of Austin's advisers recommended against this, saying the falling debris might cause injuries on the ground, a senior U.S. official told the Post.

The official added that the government knows "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."