The corporate-owned media and their best friends at the Pentagon want us all to be very, very afraid … of balloons. For two weeks now, the major newspaper and TV outlets have been saturated with wall-to-wall coverage of the controversy over an alleged Chinese spy balloon that was detected in U.S. airspace. Fueled by warmongering politicians, this frenzy has nothing to do with the privacy and security of people in the United States and everything to do with the long-standing desire of the Pentagon generals to contain, confront and even wage war against China.
The “spy balloon” in question first entered U.S. airspace in late January and quickly began making headlines. Wanting to look strong and fend off critics who claim he is insufficiently “tough on China,” Biden ordered the Air Force to shoot down the balloon in theatrical fashion. Secretary of State Antony Blinken canceled his highly-anticipated trip to China that was scheduled for last week, one that was supposed to pave the way for a summit between Biden and Xi Jinping to ease tensions between the world’s two main powers. The laughably ridiculous panic over Chinese balloons was now having real-world consequences.
Following the first shootdown, more fighter jets took to the sky over the weekend to do battle with the balloon menace. Even though National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby admitted that “we have no specific reason to suspect that they were conducting surveillance of any kind,” three more objects were blown up over Alaska, Michigan and northern Canada. The hysteria continues to feature heavily in the news cycle despite the complete lack of substance.
China denies that the balloon was conducting espionage operations, saying instead it was a civilian object that mistakenly drifted over the United States. But regardless of what it was actually doing, it is completely routine for major world powers to monitor each other. Amid the controversy, China’s Foreign Ministry announced that more than 10 U.S. spy balloons were detected over its territory since the beginning of last year.
But the United States prefers to carry out its spying activity higher up than balloons can venture. The National Reconnaissance Office, a little-known subdivision of the Pentagon, operates a fleet of spy satellites orbiting the planet. According to estimates by the Union of Concerned Scientists, there are currently 70 of these NRO spy satellites in operation. These craft are constantly taking pictures and collecting other sensitive information on their targets — first and foremost China — from the safety of space.
And there are countless other reasons why it is the height of hypocrisy for the country with the most massive surveillance state in history to complain about spying. To take just one example, Edward Snowden’s revelations included the fact that the National Security Agency had been recording every single conversation that took place on a cell phone in the Bahamas.
This mass surveillance state targets residents of the United States just as aggressively as it does those of other countries. And it even has balloons to do this! In 2019, the multi-billion dollar military contractor Sierra Nevada Corporation was revealed to be testing up to 25 high-altitude surveillance balloons over the Midwest, allegedly designed to detect “homeland security threats.”
The panic over the Chinese balloon has nothing to do with legitimate security concerns and everything to do with producing an indispensable element of all imperialist war drives — fear. They want the people of the United States to be afraid of China and suspect the hidden hand of the Chinese government behind every issue and problem. In such an atmosphere, it becomes exceedingly difficult to question the underlying U.S. policy of pursuing a new Cold War with China. This strategy inevitably puts the two countries on a path to war — a catastrophic outcome that can only be averted if enough people have the courage to raise their voice against the frenzy.