Many Americans were alarmed last week to learn that a Chinese spy balloon was allowed to float across the United States. However, the Pentagon has revealed that the balloon is just one part of a greater plan.
According to The Hill, that admission was made during a press conference on Wednesday by Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, who serves as the Pentagon's most senior spokesman.
"This is what we assess as part of a larger Chinese surveillance balloon program," Ryder was quoted as telling reporters.
"This is a program that’s been operated for several years," the general continued, adding that the Defense Department knows of at least four other instances in which similar Chinese spy balloons appeared over American territory.
He explained that the most recent balloon was launched to "surveil strategic sites to include some of our strategic bases in the continental United States."
What's more, Ryder said America is not China's only target for balloon-based surveillance, as other balloons have been spotted over South America and Europe along with southeast and east Asia.
The Washington Post noted that Ryder's assessment was bolstered by other senior defense officials, one of whom said, "These kinds of activities are often undertaken at the direction of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA)."
"These balloons are all part of a PRC fleet of balloons developed to conduct surveillance operations, which have also violated the sovereignty of other countries," the official stressed.
Another military official said, "What the Chinese have done is taken an unbelievably old technology, and basically married it with modern communications and observation capabilities," calling the balloons "a massive effort."
Yet another official told the paper, "There has been great interest in this on the part of our allies and partners," adding, "Many of them recognize that they, too, may be vulnerable or susceptible to this or an object of interest to the PRC."
For its part, China has publicly condemned the Biden administration for finally shooting down the balloon last Saturday after it reached South Carolina.
Fox News reported that Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Mao Ning announced during a press conference on Wednesday that China "has lodged a stern protest" in response to Biden's actions.
"The Chinese side has repeatedly shared information on the unintended entry of the unmanned Chinese civilian airship into U.S. airspace," she said.
"I would like to stress that the U.S.’s downing of the unmanned Chinese civilian airship by force is unacceptable and irresponsible," Mao complained.