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Surveillance Balloons?  What is Xi Thinking? 

Surveillance Balloons?  What is Xi Thinking? 

The military use of balloons is not a new idea.  Air balloons were used in the Civil War to gather intelligence on enemy troop movements.  Those balloons could also be seen by folks on the ground – but unlike today, those on the ground could not shoot them down.

Apparently, the balloon that floated across the United States was not the first Chinese lighter-than-air-craft that has been traveling over sovereign nations – just the first time we, the people, learned about them.  As Xi’s balloon was touring America, there was a similar craft floating over South America.  

It has been reported that this was not the first time that Chinese balloons had flown over the United States – although no one seems to know exactly when or why we never knew about them.  Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper said he was unaware of such events during his years at the Pentagon.

The one thing that we can say for sure is that it was not a stealth operation.  The Chinese craft was seen by millions of people … commercial airline pilots … and, of course, our military.

Xi said it was merely a weather balloon that had accidentally drifted over many of America’s most sensitive defense bases.  Even Xi must know that his official lies have no credibility.

It comes as no surprise that China would be spying on the United States.  It is something they do aggressively all the time.  They spy on our military … on our infrastructure … on our defense industry … on our campuses … on Chinese foreign nationals … on (you get the idea).  Of course, we spy on them, but not to the same extent.

So, why would Xi undertake such an obvious and blatant means of surveillance?  

I can think of only one reason.  He expected to get away with it – that the folks in Washington would not do much more than protest through diplomatic channels.  Secretary of State Antony Blinken postponed his meeting with Xi as an expression of our deep concern.  Since the meeting was not expected to achieve much – no so-called “deliverables” — the postponement is no big deal.

Perhaps Xi wanted to see how far he could get – how much intelligence he could gather before we shot the damn thing down.  Perhaps he wanted to test our air defense system against balloons.

If that was Xi’s thinking, he was right.  In fact, his spy balloon went even further than he may have hoped.  Whatever the goal of the mission was … what every intel information Xi hoped to obtain – it was successful.  We did not shoot it down until it had completed its mission.

We did shoot it down, however.  We are retrieving the bits and pieces.  We will eventually find out what was aboard that balloon and what it was doing.

Of course, Xi is expressing outrage that we should shoot down the inflated piece of Chinese property.  That means about as much as Blinken blinking over the scheduled meeting.

Personally, I believe we should have shot it down right after it violated American air space.  I know the White House and Defense Department expressed a fear that part of the balloon might have hit people or property.  Since the balloon entered The United States over Alaska, the chance of causing any serious injury or damage by shooting it down was extremely remote.  (I wonder why the Canadians did not shoot it down when it entered their air space.)

I guess taking tough action is not in the DNA of President Biden.  Considering the surrender in Afghanistan … the too-little-too-late approach to the war in Ukraine … the response to the crisis at the southern border … one cannot expect swift and decisive action from the folks in the White House.

Whether Xi wanted to test Biden’s backbone or wanted to surveil critical strategic locations, he got what he wanted.  If you are keeping score on the balloon issue, it is Team China – 10, Team USA – 0.

So, there ‘tis

About The Author

Larry Horist

So,there‘tis… The opinions, perspectives and analyses of Larry Horist Larry Horist is a businessman, conservative writer and political strategist with an extensive background in economics and public policy. Clients of his consulting firm have included such conservative icons as Steve Forbes and Milton Friedman. He has served as a consultant to the Nixon White House and travelled the country as a spokesman for President Reagan’s economic reforms. He has testified as an expert witness before numerous legislative bodies, including the U. S. Congress. Horist has lectured and taught courses at numerous colleges and universities, including Harvard, Northwestern, DePaul universities, Hope College and his alma mater, Knox College. He has been a guest on hundreds of public affairs talk shows, and hosted his own program, “Chicago In Sight,” on WIND radio. Horist was a one-time candidate for mayor of Chicago and served as Executive Director of the City Club of Chicago, where he led a successful two-year campaign to save the historic Chicago Theatre from the wrecking ball. An award-winning debater, his insightful and sometimes controversial commentaries appear frequently on the editorial pages of newspapers across the nation. He is praised by readers for his style, substance and sense of humor. According to one reader, Horist is the “new Charles Krauthammer.” He is actively semi-retired in Boca Raton, Florida where he devotes his time to writing. So, there ‘tis is Horist’s signature sign off.


  1. Mowery Bernard

    The military officials that said the balloon should not be destroyed immediately, should be fired and a thorough investigation should be made of their previous personnel activities.

    • Frank stetson


      I mean that line starts in the Pentagon and runs clear through Biden. And then you need to add one or more past Presidencies where they did the same thing. Could be a party.

      Could you imagine shooting it down over land to find a payload worse than covid?

      Perhaps we should assess the risk, followed by appropriate actions to start shooting these down before the hit the coast combined with even firmer actions against the home country. Only then can we know if and who needs to be fired. It’s more important to punish China, not our military.

      And some firm diplomacy on the topic with China. Ducking a diplomatic session is not “walk softly and carry a big stick,” it ‘s flinching.

  2. ac

    Chinese satellites in space, much more un-noticeable, are orbiting the globe to surveil US targets 24/7/365 and have done for as long as the tech has been available. American satellites are and have for a long while had eyes on China, Russia, and the rest whether friend or foe. Ground based fixed national defense assets are fitted with masking mechanisms deployed when spy satellites are in range.
    This latest iteration in China’s balloon incursion on American air space received notice, while past like it went un reported by civilians on the ground. So, the claim that the balloon went off coarse could be that it passed over at the wrong altitude, in sight on the ground and in commercial flight paths.
    Chinese explanations are indeed suspect, but their operating an in plain sight covert military spy operation has greater propaganda value than spying intelligence gathered, all happening as the world watched.
    XI knew the likelihood of the asset getting downed by order of the American President, Biden. Xi probably expected that outcome and took it as an opportunity to further chill diplomatic talks. China’s not interested in making deals and agreements proffered.
    Xi has no intention of conceding anything in America’s favor while China is in a competitive battle for first place in world economies. The balloons are strategic measures in a planned offensive to win economic status and power. America and other lesser nations will fall in line, dependent on China.