Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, claimed in an interview over the weekend that the infamous 200-foot Chinese spy balloon, which flew across the continental United States before ultimately being shot down over the Atlantic Ocean on Feb. 4, 2023, hadn't actually done any spying.
Milley, who has previously attempted to put Chinese communists' nerves at ease — even at the potential expense of an American advantage — told "CBS News Sunday Morning" that the spy balloon likely hadn't fulfilled its singular purpose while darting across the very superpower China seeks to replace.
"The intelligence community, their assessment — and it's a high-confidence assessment — [is] that there was no intelligence collection by that balloon," said Milley, invoking the confidence of the same community that continues to cast doubt on the Wuhan lab origins of COVID-19 and whose top alumni suggested the Hunter Biden laptop was Russian disinformation.
According to Milley, the spy balloon had likely been blown off course by winds at 60,000 feet. He noted further that the "particular motor on that aircraft can't go against those winds at that altitude."
This suggestion resembles the excuse originally provided by the Chinese regime as to why another one of its spy balloons had been spotted over the American interior.
"I would say it was a spy balloon that we know with high degree of certainty got no intelligence and didn't transmit any intelligence back to China," added Milley.
The State Department initially indicated in February that the vessel, which had flown above the U.S. for eight days, had "multiple antennas … likely capable of collecting and geo-locating communications." Furthermore, the department noted that China's spy balloon operations are executed by the People's Liberation Army using military technology.
The Pentagon, which rejected China's claims that the vessel was a weather airship, admitted that the spy balloon shot down in February was at least the fifth time in recent years that China had violated American sovereignty with a spy vessel, reported the Washington Post.
Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, a senior Pentagon official, said after the ship was shot down, "We know that they were looking to surveil strategic sites, to include some of our strategic bases in the continental United States," reported USA Today.
CNN reported that following the FBI's analysis of the wreckage, Ryder pre-empted Milley, suggesting in June that the balloon "did not collect while it was transiting the United States."
Government officials within the Biden administration reportedly tracked the spy balloon from Hainan, China, all the way to the U.S. without taking action. It appears as though the spy balloon may have initially intended to surveil Guam and Hawaii.
The spy vessel, which President Joe Biden characterized in May as a "silly balloon that was carrying two freight cars' worth of spying equipment," first entered American airspace on Jan. 28, north of the Aleutian Islands in Alaska.
From Alaska, the balloon passed through Canadian airspace, then was spotted over Idaho, Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, and Missouri, reported ABC News.
Along the way, the balloon may have gotten a good look at Montana's various nuclear missile silos and the state's Malmstrom Air Force Base as well as Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, the home of the stealth bomber.
After the Federal Aviation Authority instituted one of the biggest restricted airspace zones in American history, a F-22 fighter jet blasted the balloon out of the sky with a heat-seeking missile off the coast of South Carolina.
While he has acknowledged that "China is the greatest geopolitical challenge to the United States," Milley, who is set to retire by October, has recommended that Americans "lower the rhetoric a little bit with the temperature" regarding the communist nation, reported Defense One.
Milley has modeled that behavior in recent years.
While serving as the most senior uniformed adviser to former President Donald Trump, Milley telephoned his communist Chinese counterpart to reassure him that he would provide him with actionable warnings should his commander in chief decide to attack.
Milley later defended his apparent vow to nullify the strategic advantage of a possible America surprise attack for the benefit of an adversarial nation before the Senate Armed Services Committee in September 2021, suggesting he had been attempting to "manage crisis and prevent war between great powers armed with nuclear weapons," reported Politico.
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