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Pentagon 'confident' spy balloon aloft in US airspace is Chinese

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Lucas Schifres/Getty Images

The U.S. has been tracking a high-flying spy balloon, according to Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder.

"The United States Government has detected and is tracking a high altitude surveillance balloon that is over the continental United States right now," Ryder said in a statement. "The balloon is currently traveling at an altitude 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 protect against the collection of sensitive information."

According to a briefing transcript posted by the Pentagon, a senior defense official said that the U.S. is "confident" the People's Republic of China is behind the balloon.

The senior defense official noted that military commanders had recommended against shooting it down due to concerns about the possibility of the debris field harming people or causing property damage.

"It was the strong recommendation by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Milley, and the commander of NORTHCOM, General VanHerck, not to take kinetic action due to the risk to safety and security of people on the ground from the possible debris field," the official said, according to the transcript.

The balloon has flown over Montana. The state has one of the country's three nuclear missile silo fields, according to the Associated Press.

"The current ICBM force consists of Minuteman III missiles located at the 90th Missile Wing at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming; the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana; and the 91st Missile Wing at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota," according to the Defense Department.

The senior defense official noted that the balloon came into "continental United States airspace a couple of days ago."

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