A Chinese surveillance balloon has been spotted floating along the U.S. border with Canada, in a bizarre discovery that the People's Republic of China denied and then owned up to.
The balloon was spotted earlier this week but suspicions really picked up late Thursday and into Friday, after a Twitter user in Montana filmed it and posted the video online.
"Not gonna lie. First, I thought it was a UFO," Twitter user Chase Doak wrote. "Then, I thought it was @elonmusk in a Wizard of Oz cosplay scenario. But it was just a run-of-the mill Chinese spy balloon!"
\u201cNot gonna lie. First, I thought this was a #ufo. Then, I thought it was @elonmusk in a Wizard of Oz cosplay scenario. But it was just a run-of-the mill Chinese spy balloon!\u201d— Chase Doak (@Chase Doak) 1675381905
You'd think the U.S. might want to shoot something like that down, but U.S. President Joe Biden has apparently been advised against it due to concerns that the debris might hurt someone, per CNN.
"We are confident that this high-altitude surveillance balloon belongs to the [People’s Republic of China]," a senior defence official told CNN. "Instances of this activity have been observed over the past several years, including prior to this administration."
North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) officials shared a press release on Twitter late Thursday, stating that the balloon was flying much lower than commercial air traffic routes and did "not present a military or physical threat to people on the ground at this time."
The balloon flew over Alaska's Aleutian Islands and Canada and was last seen in the western U.S. state of Montana, according to the BBC.
Canada's Department of National Defence said in a statement on Thursday that it's keeping an eye on the suspicious spy balloon.
"Canadians are safe, and Canada is taking steps to ensure the security of its airspace, including the monitoring of a potential second incident," read the statement. "NORAD, the Canadian Armed Forces, the Department of National Defence, and other partners have been assessing the situation and working in close coordination."
The balloon has been seen flying over sensitive sites, including the Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana, which is home to one of the three nuclear missile silo fields in the U.S., reported the BBC.
The discovery comes at a testy time for relations between China and the U.S. and Canada, and Chinese officials weren't particularly forthcoming about the whole thing.
The Red Dragon initially refused to take responsibility for the balloon, with some government-run media outlets using it to mock the West.
The state-controlled China Daily dubbed it a "fabricated balloon lie" that "cannot be tied down to China," in a headline and laughed off the idea that China would use such old technology.
“There is no way to know who fabricated the lie, but we can be sure about the ignorance of the fabricator,” said the editorial.
"Surveillance balloons being used as military technology dates back to the early 20th century, the technology is outdated one can hardly imagine any nation like China still resorting to it today."
A few hours later, Chinese officials admitted that yeah, that was a Chinese balloon.
"The Chinese side regrets the unintended entry of the airship into U.S. airspace due to force majeure," the state-controlled Global Times wrote on Twitter, per China's foreign minister. They added that it was a "civilian airship used for research," and that weather blew it off course.
U.S. officials told CNN that they are “taking steps nevertheless to protect against foreign intelligence collection of sensitive information.”
“We are also tracking what abilities it could have in gaining insights, and continue to monitor the balloon as it was over the continental United States.”
Officials described the balloon as “sizeable,” and there have been reports of pilots spotting it even from far distances.
It's unclear where the balloon is going or what will happen to it next.