Saturday, February 4, 2023

Chinese Spy Balloon Shot Down, Falling Toward Atlantic

A high altitude balloon floats over Billings, Mont., on Feb. 1, 2023. (The Canadian Press/The Billings Gazette via AP-Larry Mayer)

A high altitude balloon floats over Billings, Mont., on Feb. 1, 2023. (The Canadian Press/The Billings Gazette via AP-Larry Mayer) 

The Chinese surveillance balloon drifting east toward the Atlantic Ocean has been shot down by the U.S. military and is now falling into the sea, video shows.

The news came shortly after the Federal Aviation Administration grounded flights in three airports in the Carolinas as the Chinese surveillance balloon makes its way eastward past these states, citing “national security” needs.

“The FAA has paused departures from and arrivals to Wilmington (ILM), Myrtle Beach International (MYR) and Charleston International (CHS) airports to support the Department of Defense in a national security effort,” the agency said in a statement on Feb. 4. The pause was to stay in effect until at least 2:45 p.m.

Television footage showed the balloon exploding before dropping toward the water around 2:40 p.m. U.S. military jets were visible flying in the vicinity, and ships were deployed in the water preparing for the recovery operation.

President Joe Biden earlier on Saturday broke the silence on the balloon, telling reporters that “we’re gonna take care of it.”

Several news outlets have also cited anonymous officials saying that Biden has greenlighted a plan to shoot down the balloon once it’s above the Atlantic Ocean. Biden had mulled over taking the step on Tuesday when officials first briefed him on it, but decided against it after Pentagon officials, including Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Army General Mark Milley, and commander of United States Northern Command Gen. Glen Vanherck all voiced strong objections by pointing to the potential harms to civilians on the ground, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Friday.

“We are tracking closely and keeping all options on the table,” she said.

In this photo provided by Brian Branch, a large balloon drifts above the Kingstown, N.C. area, with an airplane and its contrail seen below it. (Brian Branch via AP)

The balloon, described by U.S. officials as a “high altitude surveillance balloon,” has attracted rising attention since it was spotted above an airfield in Montana, one of three U.S. states where the nuclear missile fields are based. Pentagon spokesperson Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder late on Friday confirmed the presence of a second Chinese balloon flying over Latin America.

It drifted over Asheville, North Carolina, and then near Charlotte on Saturday morning.

U.S. officials previously estimated its size at about three school buses, flying at about 60,000 feet.

The balloon’s incursion has ignited alarm in Washington, with members of Congress questioning why the balloon has been allowed to stay in the air.

The ill-timed balloon incident also forced Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday to postpone a scheduled trip to Beijing.

On late Friday, a spokesperson for Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said the Biden administration will hold a classified briefing with the four congressional leaders from the House and Senate and the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate Select Committees on Intelligence over the balloon incident following the request of House Speaker Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).

JUST IN: Trump Responds To Suspected Chinese Spying Balloon

Another Chinese Spy Balloon Traveling Over Latin America, Pentagon Says

 Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder speaks during a news briefing at the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., on Feb. 3, 2023. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder speaks during a news briefing at the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., on Feb. 3, 2023. (Alex Wong/Getty Images) 

A second Chinese spy balloon is currently traversing Latin America, Pentagon confirmed late on Feb. 3 amid rising concern about a Chinese surveillance balloon hovering eastward across the continental United States.

“We are seeing reports of a balloon transiting Latin America. We now assess it is another Chinese surveillance balloon,” Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder said in a statement to media outlets.

The comment came hours after Ryder was pressed at a briefing with reporters about a Canadian defense ministry statement on Friday that they were monitoring a “potential second incident,” and whether the United States is doing the same. Ryder in response referred the question back to the Canadian authorities.

The first Chinese balloon, which military officials described to be a “high altitude surveillance balloon,” appeared earlier this week above the state of Montana, home to one of the country’s three nuclear missile silo fields.

United States China
A high altitude Chinese balloon floats over Billings, Mont., on Feb. 1, 2023. (Larry Mayer/The Billings Gazette via AP)

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday postponed a trip to Beijing that would have marked the highest profile U.S. visit to China over the balloon, calling the balloon “irresponsible” and “a clear violation of U.S. sovereignty and international law.”

“[China’s] decision to take this action on the eve of my planned visit is detrimental to the substantive discussions that we were prepared to have,” he told reporters.

The Department of Defense wouldn’t confirm the balloon’s exact location, its size, and other details on Friday other than saying that the balloon is maneuverable, has changed course at some point, and that it is currently flying at 60,000 ft eastward across the country.

President Joe Biden was first briefed on the matter on Tuesday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said on Feb. 3, and was given the “strong recommendation” by military leaders not to shoot it down due to the risk that falling debris may harm civilians.

A senior defense official said the U.S. has taken unspecified mitigation measures against the balloon, adding that it was assessed that the device had “limited additive value from an intelligence collection perspective over and above what [China] can do through other means.”

The Chinese regime has claimed that the balloon over the United States is a civilian meteorological balloon from China that was blown off course. In response, Ryder said, “The fact is we know it’s a surveillance balloon.”

Costa Rica Reports

Ryder didn’t specify which country the balloon is currently hovering over, but local reports have cited sightings of a white balloon of mysterious origin over Costa Rica, which the country’s civil aviation authorities said doesn’t have a fly authorization.

“My big concern with the Chinese balloon flight is if this is a test to see how fast we react and what we do,” Art Thompson, CEO of California-based company Sage Cheshire Aerospace which provides stratospheric balloon launching and research services, told The Epoch Times.

The two balloons appear to have been launched from different locations, he said. The photos Thomson examined of the two balloons, over the United States and Costa Rica, show that they are very similar in style.

“When I look at the trajectory, the question is, where did they launch it from? And it could have been launched from mainland China, and then just drifted over and would have done a little oscillation in its flight,” he said.

Thompson has advocated for the United States to shoot down the balloon currently moving eastward over the nation with laser weapons. He believes that U.S. authorities still have several days to take action before the balloon reaches international waters, but the one over Costa Rica would have a much shorter timeline.

“It’s going to be out of touch fairly quickly because in Costa Rica, they’re going to be across into the gulf pretty fast,” he said.

“The Chinese are definitely testing us and preparing for something.”

Friday, February 3, 2023

Secret CCP Overseas Police Station in NYC Closed After Reported FBI Raid

The America ChangLe Association in New York on Oct. 6, 2022. An overseas Chinese police outpost in New York, called the Fuzhou Police Overseas Service Station, is located inside the association building. (Samira Bouaou/The Epoch Times)

The America ChangLe Association in New York on Oct. 6, 2022. An overseas Chinese police outpost in New York, called the Fuzhou Police Overseas Service Station, is located inside the association building. (Samira Bouaou/The Epoch Times)
By Andrew Thornebrooke

A covert overseas police station run by the Chinese regime in New York has been shuttered following a reported raid by the FBI.

“The FBI has confirmed that the ‘overseas police station’ in New York linked to Fuzhou has closed,” a State Department spokesperson said in an email to The Epoch Times.

“We continue to be concerned about PRC [People’s Republic of China] transnational repression efforts around the world and are also coordinating with allies and partners on this issue.”

The closure of the facility in New York’s Chinatown comes just weeks after The New York Times reported that FBI agents raided and searched the building at an undisclosed time last fall.

The facility and more than 100 others like it form a network of covert facilities from which experts believe that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is conducting a campaign of transnational repression.

According to two reports published in October 2022 and December 2022 by Safeguard Defenders, a nonprofit organization, the overseas police outposts are used to collect intelligence and even forcibly repatriate Chinese dissidents to the mainland to be imprisoned.

“We are aware of reports regarding alleged PRC ‘overseas police stations,’” the State Department spokesperson said.

“We take this issue very seriously. Establishing so-called overseas police stations without the invitation or approval of the country in which they are operating raises serious issues of respect for the sovereignty of that country.”

The spokesperson referred The Epoch Times to the FBI and Justice Department for further information. The Justice Department didn’t respond to a request for comment by press time, and the FBI declined to comment on the matter.

China’s Communist Regime ‘Violates Sovereignty’

Chinese authorities maintain that the facilities, which operate in 53 nations, assist Chinese immigrants in foreign nations with tasks that would normally be handled by a consulate, such as renewing driver’s licenses and visas.

However, the stations have been linked to the CCP’s United Front Work Department, an agency that works to advance the regime’s interests abroad by spreading propaganda, conducting foreign influence operations, suppressing dissident movements, gathering intelligence, and facilitating the transfer of technology to communist China.

As such, many nations have voiced concern that the facilities are a threat to national security and a violation of sovereignty.

Irish, Canadian, and Dutch officials have called for China to shut down similar police operations in their countries. Likewise, FBI Director Christopher Wray has characterized them as a violation of U.S. sovereignty.

“I’m very concerned about this,” Wray said during a November 2022 hearing of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

“I have to be careful about discussing our specific investigative work, but to me, it is outrageous to think that the Chinese police would attempt to set up shop—you know, in New York, let’s say—without proper coordination. It violates sovereignty and circumvents standard judicial and law enforcement cooperation processes.”

He refrained at the time from commenting on the legality of the overseas police stations but said they were part of the CCP’s campaign of global transnational repression and linked them to CCP efforts to spy on Americans.

“The reason this is so important is because we have seen a clear pattern of the Chinese government, the Chinese Communist Party, exporting their repression right here into the U.S.,” Wray said.

“We have seen plenty of situations … where the Chinese government, under the pretext of going after corruption, have essentially used that as a vehicle to surveil. We’ve had situations where they’ve planted bugs inside Americans’ cars.”

There are three other similar facilities in the United States operating in New York and Los Angeles, according to Safeguard Defenders. It’s unclear if they also have been a target of the FBI.

Pentagon Tracking Suspected Chinese Spy Balloon Over Northern US

The Pentagon building in Washington, on Dec. 26, 2011. (AFP via Getty Images)

The Pentagon building in Washington, on Dec. 26, 2011. (AFP via Getty Images) 

The U.S. military is currently tracking a suspected Chinese spy balloon over Montana, according to a senior Pentagon official.

“The United States Government has detected and is tracking a high altitude surveillance balloon that is over the continental United States right now,” said Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder in a Feb. 2 statement.

A senior defense official told reporters the Pentagon has a “very high confidence” that the balloon comes from China.

The high-altitude surveillance balloon allegedly floated over the Aleutian islands and Canada before crossing over the airspace of Montana, according to an NBC report that cited three unnamed government officials.

A balloon flies in the sky over Billings
In this picture obtained from social media, a balloon flies in the sky over Billings, Montana, on Feb. 1, 2023. (Chase Doak/via Reuters)

Ryder said that North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) detected the balloon some days ago and that the military had taken measures to conceal any sensitive information that could be spotted from such a craft.

“The U.S. government, to include NORAD, continues to track and monitor it closely,” Ryder said. “The balloon is currently traveling at an altitude well above commercial air traffic and does not present a military or physical threat to people on the ground.”

“Instances of this kind of balloon activity have been observed previously over the past several years. Once the balloon was detected, the U.S. government acted immediately to protect against the collection of sensitive information.”

A senior defense official said that Pentagon leadership including Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin convened a meeting to determine whether or not the balloon should be shot down, but ultimately decided against that course of action “due to the risk to safety and security of people on the ground from the possible debris field.”

While declining to specify the exact dimensions of the balloon, the official said the Pentagon assessed that the balloon, which is traveling in the atmosphere over U.S. airspace, is “large enough to cause damage from the debris field if we downed it over an area.”

The official said that the balloon’s “current flight path does carry it over a number of sensitive sites,” without providing detail.

“Our best assessment at the moment is that whatever the surveillance payload is on this balloon, it does not create significant value added over and above what the PRC is likely able to collect through things like satellites in Low Earth Orbit,” the official said, using an acronym for the Chinese regime’s official name, the People’s Republic of China.

“But out of an abundance of caution, we have taken additional mitigation steps. I’m not going to go into what those are. But we know exactly where this balloon is, exactly what it is passing over. And we are taking steps to be extra vigilant so that we can mitigate any foreign intelligence risk,” the official added.

While surveillance balloons like this have crossed into the United States several times over the past years, a “distinguishing factor” in this instance, according to the official, is how long it has stayed over U.S. airspace.

The official added the Pentagon has “engaged PRC officials with urgency” through several channels, including the Chinese Embassy in the United States and the U.S. Embassy in China.

“We have communicated to them the seriousness with which we take this issue,” the official said, but declined to offer details about the content of its message to China.

When asked if China “wanted” the ballon to be spotted, the official declined to speculate.

“I don’t know why they did what they did. I will say that the past number of times it did not loiter over the continental United States for an extended period of time. It’s different,” the official said.

The incident comes as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which rules China as a single-party state, is increasing its espionage efforts against the United States and its citizens, and has become increasingly belligerent towards its neighbors in Asia, as well as Western democracies.

Relatedly, it was recently reported that a covert overseas police station operated by China in New York City had been shut down following a reported FBI raid.

Experts have warned with increasing frequency that the CCP is preparing its military for a war to seize Taiwan that would likely draw it into conflict with the United States. As such U.S. officials have said that the regime is studying the United States’ military capabilities and building technologies with the explicit purpose of overcoming them.

This article was updated to include remarks by a Pentagon official.

Beijing confirms balloon is Chinese, says entry into US airspace was unintended 

Beijing confirmed on Friday that a high-altitude balloon traveling over the northern U.S. is Chinese and said its entry into American airspace was unintentional.

A spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the balloon is a civilian airship used primarily for meteorological research.

“Affected by the Westerlies and with limited self-steering capability, the airship deviated far from its planned course,” the spokesperson said. “The Chinese side regrets the unintended entry of the airship into US airspace due to force majeure.”

U.S. defense officials confirmed the presence of the balloon on Thursday, identifying it as a “high-altitude surveillance balloon” and noting that they were fairly confident it belonged to China.

The balloon, which was first spotted over Montana on Wednesday, is still hovering over the U.S., as officials have held off on shooting it down over safety concerns.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning initially said on Friday that they were looking into the reports and noted that Beijing “has no intention of violating the territory and airspace of any sovereign country.”

Thursday, February 2, 2023

Chinese Corn Mill Project in North Dakota to Be Terminated Over National Security Concerns

A sign opposing a corn mill in Grand Forks, N.D., stands near 370 acres recently annexed by the city for the project. Many residents don't want the project in the city because the owner, Fufeng Group, has reputed ties to the Chinese Communist Party through its company chairman. (Allan Stein/The Epoch Times)

A sign opposing a corn mill in Grand Forks, N.D., stands near 370 acres recently annexed by the city for the project. Many residents don't want the project in the city because the owner, Fufeng Group, has reputed ties to the Chinese Communist Party through its company chairman. (Allan Stein/The Epoch Times) 

A Chinese corn mill proposal in Grand Forks, North Dakota, on land that’s located within 15 miles of the Grand Forks Air Force Base, is set to be terminated after the U.S. Air Force warned that the project poses a “significant threat to national security.”

Grand Forks Mayor Brandon Bochenski announced on Jan. 31 that he plans to stop the project by Fufeng Group, a large Chinese agribusiness, in response to a request from U.S. authorities.

“The federal government has requested the city’s help in stopping the project as geo-political tensions have greatly increased since the initial announcement of the project,” Bochenski said in a statement.

“The only remedies the city has to meet this directive is to refuse to connect industrial infrastructure and deny building permits. As mayor of the city of Grand Forks, I am requesting these remedies be undertaken and the project be stopped, pending City Council approval.”

The move came not long after Sens. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) and John Hoeven (R-N.D.) shared a Jan. 27 letter (pdf) from the Air Force stating that the branch has an “unambiguous” view that the “the proposed project presents a significant threat to national security with both near- and long-term risks of significant impacts to our operations in the area.”

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum issued a statement on Jan. 31 supporting the decision.

“As we said previously, our top priority is the security of our citizens and our nation. We joined with city leaders in asking the federal government for clarity on any national security implications related to the Fufeng project, and now we finally have that clarity,” he said.

“Given [the Air Force’s] concerns, we support the decision by the City of Grand Forks to initiate steps to stop the project with Fufeng Group and will support the city in finding another partner for a corn milling operation.”

Ben Grzadzielewski, a Grand Forks resident who has been leading a grassroots campaign against the project, said that the project’s termination “goes to show you that the people still have the ability to rise up and overcome.”

“If they’d listened to us in the beginning, it would’ve saved them a year’s worth of time and a lot of money,” he told The Epoch Times.

The city of Grand Forks announced the Fufeng project in November 2021 and approved the development agreement in July 2022.

Fufeng USA, the U.S. subsidiary of Fufeng Group, will still own the 370-acre farmland they purchased in Grand Forks in the fall of 2021.

Fufeng USA officials didn’t respond by press time to a request by The Epoch Times for comment.

In December 2022, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), a federal panel charged with reviewing foreign acquisitions for national security risks, decided that it didn’t have jurisdiction to probe the land purchase. Before that, the project had prompted significant pushback from Republican lawmakers and locals who said it threatened both national and economic security.

Both Sens. Cramer and Hoeven raised national security concerns before and after the CFIUS review.

As of Dec. 31, 2020, China owned 325,686 acres of U.S. agricultural land, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. While the acreage under Chinese ownership is slightly less than 1 percent of all foreign-held agricultural land, it represents about a 20-fold leap from 13,720 acres in 2010.

Many state officials have also sounded the alarm about Chinese ownership of U.S. farmland. As a result, some states are creating legislation to prohibit or restrict Chinese entities from buying U.S. agricultural land and businesses. These states include South Dakota, Florida, Texas, Virginia, Missouri, and Iowa.