It’s best never to take White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre’s word for anything, but we can presumably believe her when she says that the flying objects shot down by the United States in recent days aren’t from an alien civilization.
Although she left herself some wiggle room – “there is no indication” of extraterrestrial activity, she said, displaying the weasel-word instincts of someone whose job involves dancing around the truth.
If she’s wrong, we are having close encounters of the most unwelcoming kind, as our alien visitors learn more than they presumably wanted to know about the business end of the F-22. Poor E.T. is not going to be phoning home, or anywhere else.
The Chinese spy balloon incident appears to have quickly evolved from embarrassing national security failure to national farce. We let a sophisticated Chinese surveillance balloon fly the length of the United States and now, in reaction to that embarrassment, are practically scrambling the jets every time a little girl lets go of her helium balloon at a birthday party.
Maybe the objects we’ve subsequently shot down were Chinese or Russian and deserved to be taken out with extreme prejudice. Maybe they were stray commercial or research objects that were minding their own business before having a very bad day. Who knows? Certainly, the administration doesn’t know, or isn’t telling.
You can’t really blame the Chinese for spying. That’s what all states do, and in the context of Beijing’s long-running, highly successful full-spectrum effort to steal every military and industrial secret we have, the spy balloon is small beer.
Nor can you blame them for lying – that’s one of their core competencies.
If you believe that the Chinese balloon was an off-course weather device that China simply didn’t mention to us once it entered our sovereign territory, well then, you should take to the bank Beijing’s assurances that its labs had nothing to with the emergence of COVID-19.
No, the failure here is ours and ours alone. How can the most sophisticated society in human history lack the capacity to track a primitive aviation technology dating back to the 18th century?
The head of the North American Aerospace Defense Command, known as NORAD, calls it a “domain awareness gap.” Radar surveillance filters apparently weren’t set to detect objects flying slowly and at unexpected altitudes. Fine. Surveillance and countermeasures are always a cat-and-mouse game of adjustments.
If, as NORAD says, it learned about prior intrusions after the fact from the intelligence agencies, though, why weren’t such adjustments made then? Why wasn’t this vulnerability discussed in strategic documents related to China?
Congress must demand answers to these questions.
The administration shows every sign of having wanted to hide the ball, except, in this case, the ball happened to be 200-feet tall. Had private citizens not raised questions about a strange object in the sky two weeks ago, it seems likely the Chinese surveillance balloon would have been allowed to complete its mission without anyone in the U.S. government saying a peep in public about it.
If true, that’s an outrage.
One purpose of the brazen Chinese overflight obviously might have been to test President Joe Biden’s mettle. He cancelled the scheduled meeting between U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and President Xi Jinping, which was welcome, but the balloon was taken down after only after hesitation and delay. The new “Top Gun: Maverick” posture toward myriad other unidentified objects seems like an implicit acknowledgement that the first response, when it really mattered, was too slow.
If it takes the balloon to get us to grapple more seriously with the Chinese threat, so be it. But it’s not as though that threat is new or has heretofore been hidden – China just surpassed the U.S. in the number of intercontinental ballistic missile launchers it has.
As far as know, we have nothing to fear from little green men. It’s the hostile civilization on the other side of the planet that we have to worry about, and balloons are the least of it.
Rich Lowry is on Twitter @RichLowry
(Rich Lowry is on Twitter @RichLowry)
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