The Chinese Balloon and the Biden Administration Reaction: Putting it Into Context

By Pippa Malmgren

The Chinese balloons over the US reveal many things.

First, we are already at war. But the US authorities don’t want to say this because social media will create hysteria. China knows this. The purpose of the balloons may not be spying or payload delivery but about the kind of spectacle that creates doubt amongst Americans about their own Government. This is a live staged Tik Tok event.

Second, it reveals that the American leadership had thought they could be at war without the public needing to know about it. Biden and Xi can shake hands and declare a truce, but under the surface, the two nations are all out in confrontation. New economic measures are coming that will confirm this.

Third, the destruction of the Chinese craft gives China an excuse to retaliate. This amounts to the “go ahead and hit me” taunting strategy that Russia has long been engaged in.

Fourth, this technology reveals that China intends to avoid fighting the US nose to nose, ship to ship, and person to person. Instead, they understand leverage ratios. Just as the terrorists used $5 box cutters to take down aircraft over the US and destroy significant buildings on 9/11, China can create havoc with cheap balloons, toy drones, and other small aerial devices, including in space. In Taiwan, the Chinese might do flyovers with fighter jetsto create an atmosphere of tension and to keep everybody on edge.

In the US, that would invite an overwhelming response. Balloons seem so innocuous. This “Sky Lantern” strategy creates confusion, a sense of helplessness, and a realization that “big” Western military tech may be useless against “small” Chinese military tech. Across Asia there is an ancient tradition of letting paper lanterns with tea candles loose into the sky or across bodies of water. This “Sky Lantern” tradition spills over into the realm of strategic security too.

Americans have forgotten that the Japanese once launched some 9000 “wind-ships” called Fu-Go Bombs into the US from Honshu Island. It was 1944. Since all the Japanese men were at war, young Japanese schoolgirls were assigned to construct these 33 feet wide balloons, which were made of a kind of paper-mâché using fibers from mulberry trees and potato flour glue.  Each carried “either a 32-pound anti-personnel device or two 24-pound thermite incendiary bombs,” and all were painted with Japan’s Signature Rising Sun image.

Most disappeared over the Pacific, but a few hit their mark. They seemed innocuous at first. They were found unexploded in 26 states, including Kalispell, Montana, and California at Saticoy in the Santa Clara River and Oxnard and in Milton, Saskatchewan, Estacada, Oregon, Tacoma, and South Hill. Washington, Bigelow Kansas, Laurens Iowa, Nebraska, near Detroit, Dorr Michigan, Desdemona and Woodson, Texas, and Timnath, Colorado. In 2014 one was found in Lumby, British Columbia, and another in Attu in the Aleutian Islands. One blew up in Omaha, Nebraska, and another in South Hill, Washington.

But, one downed balloon in a tree in Bly, Oregon, killed a party of school children led by a Reverend and his pregnant wife. This is said to be the only attack by a foreign nation to kill Americans on American soil. The story was totally suppressed. In an amazingly lucky strike, another Fu-Go balloon bomb took out the main power line that supplied the very nuclear reactor that happened to generate the plutonium that would later be used in the Nagasaki nuclear bomb. Perhaps this was nothing more than an eerie coincidence. The Japanese did not know what had happened because the US Military had instituted a virtual press blackout and told all the witnesses to stay schtum. The military had good reason to suppress these stories. At that time paranoia was running high.

The US authorities still had not solved the mystery of the 1942 arson attack on the second-largest ship in America’s Atlantic Fleet. The SS Normandie was the world’s largest ocean liner at the time and was moored at Pier 88 in NYC when a fire broke out that sank the ship. This was just after it had been commandeered by the US Navy, which intended to convert it into a carrier for troops. So, the possibility of foreign sabotage and attacks had a visceral reality to it at the time.

Fast forward to today. Multiple Chinese government balloons have been spotted over America, including Wyoming, Montana, (apparently) Texas, Hawaii, and elsewhere and then one was shot down over the Atlantic off South Carolina. There are rumors that one exploded over Billings, Montana. Americans may not remember this earlier Japanese Fu-Go episode. But they are avid watchers of Yellowstone on Netflix. The whole point of going to Montana and Wyoming is to get away from government authorities.

The zeitgeist of these Western states is one of militant and armed independence from the outside world. This is the part of America that kicked Liz Cheyney out of office for being too soft a Republican. The folks in Wyoming and Montana don’t want to depend on Washington to defend them. They certainly don’t take kindly to having a foreign power hovering over their land.

The initial questions are why did the Chinese mark the balloons so it would be crystal clear it was them? If they want to surveil America, why not rely on their satellites or pay private commercial operators like MAXAR? They’ve been very effective in Ukraine.

Ah, one of the balloons was found near the Malmstrom Airbase, which is one of the three locations of America’s Minuteman nuclear missile silos. According to the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center, “The current ICBM force consists of 400 Minuteman III missiles located at the 90th Missile Wing at F.E. Warren AFB, Wyoming”. So, it looks like the Chinese balloons got two out of three of these valuable targets this time.

So, the thought process naturally turns darker.

You can’t pay private firms for that data, and the US has ways to make it impossible for satellites to see what’s happening there. Just to remind everybody, we remain in a Cuban Missile Crisis-type environment where all the superpowers are on an extraordinarily high level of alert. North Korea alone has not only been engaged in a record number of ballistic missile tests over the last year but is now accusing Washington of pushing tensions to an “extreme red line”. In response, they threaten to use “overwhelming nuclear force.”

Meanwhile, the START talks between Russia and the US have completely broken down. The US says Moscow is blocking inspections, but Russia accuses the US of operating in violation of all the remaining nuclear weapons agreements.  Now the war in Ukraine is escalating as the Western nations start supplying more powerful and advanced equipment to the Ukrainian side. President Putin went to Volgograd on the 80th Anniversary of the Battle of Stalingrad and obliquely threatened nuclear again.

To add drama to all this, the Daily Mail and Telegram are reporting that four UFOs pitched up at his speech and buzzed the Russian President. I am really hoping a higher intelligence will prevent anybody from engaging in nuclear strikes myself. But in all seriousness, we already see press reports of the threat of a Russian response in the form of a “low yield/tactical nuclear weapon” in Europe, possibly even over Europe.  In other words, there was already concern about an EMP device being delivered without a missile even before these Chinese balloons showed up.

So, perhaps these balloons were not intended for surveillance. Perhaps they are delivering payloads just as they did in the 1940s. Already the net is overwhelmed by conspiracy theories about payload possibilities from bioweapons to EMP devices.

The Former Head of the Pentagon’s EMP Task Force and chairman of the American Leadership & Policy Foundation, Air Force Maj. David Stuckenberg has been writing about the possibility of EMP devices on balloons since 2015. The aim would not be to drop a nuclear weapon but rather to explode one at a high-altitude which would fry all electronics on the ground. The point is that, like in the 1940s, we are already at such an advanced stage of confrontation amongst the superpowers that the job of the military is not so much to respond to the balloons as it is to prevent public panic.

It seems similar events have obviously been suppressed in recent years. The New York Times has just confirmed the following: “ Since 2021, the Pentagon has examined 366 incidents that were initially unexplained and said 163 were balloons. A handful of those incidents involved advanced surveillance balloons, according to a U.S. official, but none were conducting persistent reconnaissance of the U.S. military bases. In a formal press release, the Pentagon also confirmed that these balloons entered the US at least three times under the previous administration, although Former President Trump is denying this.

The story of the seemingly innocuous balloons is also taking place against the backdrop of substantial military positioning in the Pacific between the US and China. I flew over the Pacific twice this week from LA to Hawaii, Hawaii to San Fran and San Fran to Seoul. It seems to calm and peaceful, but the reality is that there is a massive build-up of military power underway by China and by the US.

The US has two major island footholds in the Pacific – Hawaii and Guam.

Hawaii now has 14 military bases, including supporting facilities such as the Maui Space Force Surveillance Complex on Mount Haleakala and the Air Force Maui Optical and Supercomputing Observatory.  This is the location of PACOM, Pacific Command, for all the branches of the US military. Just last week, the former chief of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, Philip Davidson, suggested that China may attack Taiwan by 2027. The Head of the CIA, William Burns, also just announced that this threat should not be underestimated.

It is as if the Western military establishment learned a great lesson from having underestimated President Putin’s threat to invade Ukraine.  The assumption then was, “he’ll never dare, and it’s a bluff.” The assumption now is to fully prepare in order to avoid the threat, whether it’s a bluff or not. But Burns made the possibility much starker by saying that the US now knows, “as a matter of intelligence,” that Xi has ordered the Chinese military to be ready for this attack by 2027. The US and NATO have been tracking China’s training efforts and changing NATO doctrine to contend with the possibility of a direct confrontation. See The Rise of China and NATO’s New Strategic Concept.

So, what is being done to strengthen The US Indo-Pacific Command(USINDOPACOM)?

A lot! It matters. Note the Wikipedia entry: is responsible for military operations in an area that encompasses more than 100 million square miles (260,000,000 km2), or roughly 52% of the Earth’s surface, stretching from the waters of the West Coast of the United States to the east coast maritime borderline waters of Pakistan at the meridian 66° longitude east of Greenwich and from the Arctic to the Antarctic.”

Guam has long been referred to as America’s “Unsinkable Aircraft Carrier”. It’s being shored up now as the US begins expanding further into the Marianas Island Chain. Tinian Island looks set to be a new, more modernized military base. A new deal has just been concluded with the Philippines that gives the US four new military bases there.

Other locations, such as Palawan, are under discussion. The focus seems to be The Bashi Channelwhich is the stretch between the Philippines and Taiwan that China feels so hemmed in by. Guam is also expanding to accommodate the 5000 Marinesthat will no longer be stationed in Okinawa. Instead, they’ll be based at the new 4000-acre Camp Blaz in Guam, which was “reactivated” on January 26th, 2023, and is currently under construction. The US has also apparently doubled the size of the Pacific Submarine fleet based in Guam. Remember that Guam is where the USS Connecticut, one of three Seawolf-class attack submarines, went when it was damaged after a still-unexplained accident in The South China Sea.

The US may be downgrading its presence in Okinawa, but Japan is still hosting the US in new locations. Japan has just started building a new base twenty off of Kyushu. The new $1.6b Magashima base will “host aircraft carrier landing practices.” The US is also adding to its naval capabilities in Japan, especially near the Taiwan Straights.

Meanwhile, China’s efforts to establish a greater presence in the South China Sea used to be seen as a simple territorial grab. But, they’ve converted these islands into “unsinkable aircraft carriers” themselves. Perhaps it was a military strategy more than the West realized.

Let’s not forget that a Chinese Navy J-11 fighter jet had a near miss of less than 3 meters with a US RC-135 spy plane only a few weeks ago over the South China Sea.

Perhaps the most worrying thing is that the US military has shifted from holding exercises to engaging in mission rehearsals.

This is a dramatic change.

Exercises keep militaries limbered up. Mission rehearsals serve to find out how actual warfighting will occur.

You could say exercises are held to increase confidence in high star Generals. Mission rehearsals are to increase confidence in the twenty-year-olds who will be actually conducting warfighting. Gen Z and Gen Y, you need to read The Fourth Turning now.

The Chinese Sky Lantern Strategy has resulted in one nearly impossible outcome.

It has totally united the Democrats and Republicans. The only other issue that has generated a completely unified stance between the left and the right is the UFO/UAP/Anomalous phenomena issue. Now we can see that the two are related. As Senator Gillibrand has said, “We don’t know what it is” is no longer an acceptable answer, especially with all this going on. It strikes me that the two are closely related, given the uptick in reporting of UAPs against the backdrop of escalating confrontation via new small aerial devices, whether balloons or drones of tiny satellites. This is about robots on robots at altitude.

On drones, Western militaries still have not understood the true power of the tiny toy drones that are made in China.

It’s not the drone that matters, although all that data is available to Beijing. That’s useful from a reconnaissance perspective. The bigger deal is running AI, facial recognition, and the now-banned SenseTime over the data. This allows easy assessment of the mental state of the troops or of a person. A balloon goes up, and the emotional responses of the personnel on the ground are even more valuable than data feed from the aircraft itself. It’s not the video that matters. It’s the assessment of the video where the strategic advantage lies. It’s not that balloons are a threat.

It’s that they create chaos in the decision-making apparatus, and that’s very valuable.

They also can be used to create diplomatic incidents, which also have value in wartime. Head fakes are part of the negotiation process.

So, we can expect the US to lash back.

My father, Amb. Harald Malmgren @HalsRethink and Nick Glinsman @nglinsman have recently written an important piece called Decoupling of Global Commerce will be a Painful Divorce.

It explains the reverse CIFIUS, meaning mandated constraints on US investment into China.

Can the West keep cutting off China and expect no response? Can China keep taunting the US and expect no response?

The markets won’t like all this.

This is The Invisible War that we occasionally get brief glimpses of.

China’s Sky Lanterns illuminated this fact.

This was published by Dr. Malmgren on 6 February 2023.