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Pentagon Officials Update On Chinese Spy Balloon Over U.S.; Pentagon: Chinese Balloon At 60,000 Ft, Has Ability To Maneuver; Pentagon: We Know This Is A "Surveillance" Balloon; Pentagon: Balloon Has Changed Course, That's Why We Are Monitoring; Pentagon: Chinese Balloon Does Not Present Threat At This Time; Pentagon: "Reviewing Options" On How To Deal With Chinese Balloon; Pentagon: Chinese "Surveillance" Balloon Violates U.S. Airspace. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired February 03, 2023 - 12:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Hello everybody, welcome to Inside Politics. I'm John King in Washington. Thank you for sharing a remarkable news day with us. We begin this hour with a brazen spy drama. We'll take you straight to the Pentagon now to brief you on a Chinese balloon over Montana.

AIR FORCE BRIG. GEN. PAT RYDER, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: Conducting press briefings here in our temporary press briefing room, while our primary location undergoes extensive technical renovations and upgrades. We do greatly appreciate your patience and flexibility as we work to install some long overdue upgrades to the Pentagon press briefing room. Because we do not have internet or phone capability in this area of the Pentagon for a variety of reasons, our normal calling options will not be available.

So, for those who have had to call in, we apologize for the inconvenience. However, we will aim to get our briefing transcripts and the audio up as quickly as possible for reporting purposes. We'll also aim to answer your questions through our DOD press desk when you send them to us.

Moving forward, we'll look at ways to improve our briefing operations and the facilitation and expect that our regular press briefings will resume back in the press briefing room in middle to late May. So again, we appreciate your patience and flexibility and extend our thanks to the Department of the Air Force for allowing us to use Airman's Hall as our temporary briefing home.

And other news Secretary Austin returned yesterday from a very productive series of meetings in the Republic of Korea and the Philippines. The secretary and his Korean counterpart Minister Lee Jong-sup jointly reaffirmed measures to enhance extended deterrence on the Korean peninsula.

The two leaders additionally pledged to closely cooperate regarding U.S. strategic assets in the future, as well as further expand and bolster the level and scale of combined exercises and training. And the Philippines Secretary Austin had his first in person meeting with his counterpart Secretary Galvez and reiterated that the U.S. commitment to Philippine security is ironclad.

The secretary expressed his appreciation for the Philippines approval of four new Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement locations, and both Secretary Austin and Secretary Galvez noted that the EDCA is a key pillar of alliance cooperation and supports combined training exercises and interoperability.

Separately, the Department of Defense announced today a significant new package of security assistance for Ukraine. This includes the authorization of a presidential drawdown of security assistance, valued at up to $425 million, as well as $1.75 billion in Ukraine security assistance initiative funds.

The presidential drawdown is the 31st such drawdown of equipment from DOD inventories for Ukraine. In total, the U.S. has now committed $32 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since 2014, and $29.3 billion since Russia's unprovoked an illegal invasion nearly one year ago this month.

Today's announcement includes critical air defense capabilities to help Ukraine defend its people as well as armored infantry vehicles and more equipment that Ukraine is using to effect so effectively including, Javelin anti-tank missiles, artillery, ammunition, and conventional and long-range rockets for U.S. provided HIMARS. Additional information on the security package can be found on

In regards to our announcement last night regarding the high altitude surveillance balloon, I'm not going to have much new information to provide other than to say that the North American Aerospace Defense Command continues to monitor it closely.

While we won't get into specifics in regards to the exact location, I can tell you that the balloon continues to move eastward and is currently over the center of the continental United States. Again, we currently assess that the balloon does not present a military or physical threat to people on the ground at this time and will continue to review - excuse me, continue to monitor and review options.

Finally, Secretary Austin will host a bilateral meeting today here in the Pentagon with Australian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Richard Marles. The secretary looks forward to discussing bilateral defense cooperation and our mutual security efforts within the Indo-Pacific region and beyond. A full readout of the engagement, we'll post later today to

And with that, we'll go ahead and move to your questions. We'll start with AP Tara (Ph).

AP TARA: Hi, Pat, thank you for doing this. China has said this is just a weather balloon that has veered off course. Why is the Pentagon convinced that this is a surveillance balloon? And then can you give us a little bit more on the status of the balloon? You said it's in the central U.S. what state. Do you have any guidance for people as they see this balloon or they're trying to photograph it or maybe trying to interfere with it? [12:05:00]

GEN. RYDER: Sure. Thanks Tara. So, first of all, we are aware of the PRC statement, however the fact is we know that it's a surveillance balloon. And I'm not going to be able to be more specific than that. We do know that the balloon has violated U.S. airspace and international law, which is unacceptable.

And so, we've conveyed this directly to the PRC at multiple levels. And in terms of specific locations, I'm not going to be able to go into specific locations again, other than to say it's moving eastward at this time. Yes, you had a follow-up.

TARA: Just a quick follow-up on that, as people start to see the balloon, do you have any guidance for should they try not to interfere and not photograph?

GEN. RYDER: So, the balloon is currently assessed to be at about 60,000 feet. So again, well above the range of civilian air traffic or where civilian air traffic would normally fly, certainly aware that there are cameras, you know, civilian owned commercial cameras that could spot this balloon.

In terms of guidance to folks, again, this is something that NORAD is closely monitoring. We do assess at this time that it's not pose a physical threat, as I mentioned, to people on the ground. So, we'll just leave it at that. Jennifer?

JENNIFER: General Ryder, who is controlling this balloon right now?

GEN. RYDER: Again, we know that this is a Chinese balloon, but beyond that, I'm not going to have specific.

JENNIFER: Is it, you say that it's moving eastward, and it's over the continental U.S.? It's not over Montana anymore? Is the Chinese government controlling the movement of the balloon? Or is it just floating with air streams?

GEN. RYDER: Thanks, Jennifer. So, I'm not going to go into any specific intelligence that we may have, again, we know this is a Chinese balloon, and that it has the ability to maneuver, but I'll just leave it at that.

JENNIFER: And once it's over a body of water, will you shoot it down?

GEN. RYDER: Again, right now we're monitoring the situation, closely reviewing options. But beyond that, I'm not going to have any additional information. We go to Tony.

TONY: One quickie on the balloon, can you confirm the photos that are out there that this is not the man in the moon and that is the actual balloon?

GEN. RYDER: Thanks, Tony. So certainly, aware of photos being posted online. I'm not going to get into the business of confirming whether or not those are, you know, where those photos come from. Again, I can tell you that the U.S. government NORAD is monitoring this closely and we will continue to review.

TONY: How close was the U.S. to ordering, was the president ordering a shoot down of the balloon?

GEN. RYDER: Yes. So again, I'm not going to get into discussions, internal discussions within the White House again. Right now, we assess that there is no threat, a physical threat or military threat to people on the ground. So, we're continuing to monitor, you know, men, we'll just leave it at that. Thank you. We go to Janie, and then we'll go to Real (Ph).

JANIE: Thanks, General. Welcome to home. I have two occasions. Come on. OK. In response to Secretary Austin's recent remarks that more U.S. strategic assets will continue to South Korea, North Korea one of a stronger provocations in the near future. What is your comment on this?

GEN. RYDER: Well, it's certainly not surprising given North Korea's track record of making bellicose statements. Again, what we're focused on is on preserving peace, security and stability in the Indo-Pacific region. And so, Secretary Austin's visit was an opportunity to again reaffirm our strong and close alliance with the Republic of Korea. And so, that will remain our focus. As I'm working with South Korea and other nations in the region to deter aggression and ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific.

JANIE: South Korea has announced that it will be test the high-powered monster ballistic missiles with nuclear warhead labor. Is the thesis the defense against the North Korea's nuclear warhead. How do you agree these?

GEN. RYDER: I'm sorry, Janie. I missed the first part of your question.

JANIE: The South Korea has announced that it will be test high powered monster ballistic missile with the nuclear warhead labors. This is the take---

GEN. RYDER: Yes. I don't have anything on that. I'd refer you to government of South Korea. Thank you. Let me go to Real, and then I'll come back over here.


REAL: OK. Thank you very much. Two questions on the Chinese balloon. So, there is speculation that this balloon who over Japanese airspace before reaching that U.S., continent of U.S. Can you confirm that?

GEN. RYDER: I've seen those press reports. Again, as we acknowledged in our statement that we posted last night, we have seen this type of balloon activity elsewhere before. But again, I'm not going to get into intelligence and I'm not going to have any further information to provide.

REAL: And secondary, how will this incident affect the secretary's future engagement with Chinese counterpart to maintain open lines of communication?

GEN. RYDER: I think we've been very clear that we're always open to maintaining an open line of communication with the PRC. And in that regard, nothing has changed. Thank you. Let me go to Phil, and then I'll come over to Carsen (Ph).

PHIL: Position of the balloon classified?

GEN. RYDER: Phil, right now, what we're not going to do is get into a hour-by-hour location of the balloon, again, we're monitoring it closely. As I mentioned, right now, it's over to the center of the continental United States. That's about as specific as I'm going to get.

PHIL: I understand my being convenient, but as the public now have a right to know, the public---

GEN. RYDER: It certainly has the ability to look up in the sky and see where the balloon is. Thank you. Carsen?

CARSEN: General, you said the balloon is maneuverable. So, does that mean that it's not drifting?

GEN. RYDER: So, the balloon is maneuverable. Clearly, it's violated us airspace. And again, we've communicated that fact to the PRC.

CARSEN: If possible, can you tell us if the balloon, when it entered the U.S. airspace, has it changed its course in any way?

GEN. RYDER: The balloon has changed its course, which is again, why we're monitoring it. But that's about as specific as I can get. Thank you. Go to Matt.

MATT: So, you've said at this point, the balloon doesn't pose to have any - to pose any risks to citizens. How is it that the U.S. can assess that given that the balloon is at such an altitude without actually getting eyes on it up close and assessing the equipment that's on board? And secondly, are there any alternatives being considered to shooting it down? Is there any option to take this balloon out of the sky intact, to maybe get a better look at that equipment?

GEN. RYDER: Yes. So again, this is a surveillance balloon, you know, operating at about 60,000 feet. Clearly, you know, we did a very close assessment in terms of what it's doing. And as I mentioned, military commanders have assessed that there is no physical or military threat to people on the ground. And so, in that regard, we'll continue to monitor. In terms of way ahead, we will continue to review options, but I'm not going to have anything further to provide on that. So, thank you. Ma'am?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you, Pat. You said that this is a violating our airspace, so why not take it down?

GEN. RYDER: Yes. So, you know, clearly as we assess options, and considering the size of the payload on this, looking at the potential for debris, and the impact on civilians on the ground or property damage. Again, running through the various factors, and looking at in terms of, does it pose a potential risk to people while in the air.

And right now, as I mentioned, we assess that it does not pose a risk to people on the ground as it currently is traversing the continental United States. And so, out of an abundance of caution, cognizant of the potential impact to civilians on the ground from a debris field, right now we're going to continue to monitor and review options.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And if I may, you mentioned that we've seen this kind of activity before. So, why are we sharing this one and why last night? If you were following it for a few days, is this some sort of sign that we should take from China ahead of Blinken's visit or from the activity that we had in the Philippines?

GEN. RYDER: Yes. So, in terms of any, you know, hypotheticals about messaging from PRC, I'd refer you to them on that front. Again, I think what makes this different, different is the duration and the length of which it has been over U.S. territory. But beyond that, I'm not going to be able to go into any more specifics. Mike?

MIKE: Thanks, Pat. Yesterday, a senior defense official said that the intelligence gathering capability of this balloon will be no better than any Chinese satellite in low Earth orbit. If that's the case, why would Beijing go through the trouble and expense to send this balloon on such a journey?

GEN. RYDER: Yes. I'd have to refer you back to the PRC.


MIKE: And then and why?

GEN. RYDER: Again, look, we're monitoring this. As I mentioned, it's violated U.S. airspace. It's violated international law. We've communicated that back to the government of China. But again, I'd refer you back to China in terms of---

MIKE: Is there something that the Pentagon is trying to figure this out itself, why they're bothering to do this if they can already. If it's offered no better intelligence gathering than from a satellite, right?

GEN. RYDER: Yes. Again, I mean, that's a statement, not a question.

MIKE: How much mark to begin there? (Ph)

GEN. RYDER: Yes. Again, I'm not going to have anything other to provide. Ma'am? Yes. Go to her, and then come back to Nancy here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was wondering, is there any way that the Pentagon is able to gauge how long it could potentially loiter? You know, comparing to balloons that have been in the past? And you know, how long do you anticipate that it could loiter?

GEN. RYDER: Sure. Yes. So, as I mentioned, we'll continue to monitor it. Right now, we assess that it'll probably be over the United States for a few days. But we'll continue to monitor, review our options and keep you updated as we can. Thank you. We'll go to Nancy here.

NANCY: Hi, General. I want to go back to a couple of things you said. You've said several times that the U.S. was reviewing its options. I'd like to some clarity, is the option of shooting down the balloon, particularly as it's going over more populated areas off the table? Is that still amongst the options that that the U.S. military is considering it? And if so, under what conditions would it do so?

GEN. RYDER: Yes. Thanks, Nancy. So, at this stage, what I can tell you is, again, we're reviewing options. I'm not going to go into more specifics than that. And when and if there's any updates to provide, we'll let you know.

NANCY: It's been ruled out.

GEN. RYDER: Again, we're monitoring and we're reviewing options, just leave it there.

NANCY: And then a senior defense official yesterday said that similar incidents had happened under the previous administration. And yet some of those administration officials have come forward and said they're not familiar with it. Is there any way you could give us more details on when it's happened over whether it was over the continental U.S., or over U.S. territories? Is that something you could potentially take to provide the public more details about the extent few thinks happen?

GEN. RYDER: So, what I would tell you right now is that information is classified. I'm not able to provide it other than, I can't confirm that there have been other incidents where balloons did come close to or cross over U.S. territory.

NANCY: And then, I just want to reiterate something that Phil said earlier that given that it's not classified, and the public can see it. I just ask that you take the question that we have more specifics on where it is, given that there's no clear security reasons by your own estimation, in terms of keeping that information from (crosstalk). Thank you.

GEN. RYDER: Sure. Yes, absolutely. And again, you know, we're just not going to get into an hour-by-hour where the balloon is. So, we will do our best to keep you in the public informed, in general terms on where the balloon is. And, you know, try to be helpful in that regard.

NANCY: A guessing game, where people think it's fine over, I just think some fidelity would be in everybody---

GEN. RYDER: Understood. And again, I think a key point here to make, and to purposefully belabor the point, which is that again, as this balloon traverses the continental United States, we assess that it currently does not pose a physical or military risk to people on the ground. So, we will continue to monitor, we'll continue to review our options, and provide information and updates as we're able to. So, Jennifer?

JENNIFER: It approaches Washington, D.C., will you shoot it down?

GEN. RYDER: Again, Jennifer, we're reviewing options, but I'm not going to get into hypotheticals or speculate on potential future action. So, let me go to the back of the room here, and they'll come up to you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, General. I'm thinking about the, you know, route of the balloon, was it impossible for the DOD to deal with the balloon before it reaches to the airspace of the United States?

GEN. RYDER: Yes. So, we've been monitoring the balloon. You know, we are aware, again, as I mentioned, it is a maneuverable craft. And we continue to assess and make appropriate decisions based on how we're going to address, you know, what we perceive as a potential threat or not. The safety and security of the American people is paramount.

And so, again, at this time, we assessed that it does not pose a physical threat to people on the ground. We'll continue to monitor it, and we'll continue to review options. Thank you. Let me go ahead and we'll go to Joe here. And then we'll come back to this side of the room.

JOE: So, you said that this is the first time we've - this isn't the first time we've seen a balloon fly over the continental U.S. In the past, has it flown over other sensitive areas, such as military bases, you've only - you haven't been very specific, it's just the continental U.S.?


GEN. RYDER: Yes. No, I appreciate it. I haven't been very specific because that information is classified. And I'm just not going to be able to talk about it. So, thank you. Aegis? (Ph)

AEGIS: The Canadian defense minister yesterday said they were tracking a second potential spy balloon. Are you tracking a second potential incident? And when the balloon was coming - I guess what I'm confused about is, when were there discussions to shoot down the balloon? Were there any discussions about shooting down the balloon when it was not over the United States, when it was potentially over international waters? Or were the discussions only when it entered U.S. airspace?

GEN. RYDER: Thanks, Aegis. So, on your first question, we are tracking one balloon. So, in regards to statements by Canada, I'd refer you back to them on that. In terms of the discussions about whether or not to shoot down this balloon, that was an option, right? And so, that was something that was taken into consideration.

Again, because we assess that currently does not pose a physical or military risk to people on the ground. For now, we're continuing to monitor and review options. Thank you. Go back to Ellie, and then we'll come up here.

ELLIE: Thank you. How big is the balloon that you're tracking? And is it - have you guys picked up? Is it leaving anything in its wake like sensors? GEN. RYDER: Yes. So, on your ladder question, I'm not going to get into intelligence. We do continue to monitor the balloon. We do know that it is a surveillance balloon. In terms of the size, I'm not able to get into the specifics other than to say, that it is big enough that again, in reviewing our approach, we do recognize that any potential debris field would be significant, and potentially cause civilian injuries or deaths, or significant property damage.

So again, this is part of the calculus in terms of our overall assessment. But again, we'll continue to monitor it, we'll continue to review our options, and keep you updated as able. Let me go here, and then over here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you. Following up on the balloon question. During a conversation with the Chinese, have they indicated to you what is inside the balloon to prove the point that it's not a - it's a civilian balloon or weather monitoring thing? And does that assessment differs from your assessment of what is inside the balloon? What is trying to do?

And secondly, on the India question. This week, India and U.S. launched a initiative on critical emerging technologies. This has quite a bit of defense component in it. Can you give us some more details about it and how it's going to strengthen, build up your relationship with India?

GEN. RYDER: Sure. On your second question, I'll have to take that because I just don't have that information in front of me. On the first question, I appreciate it. As I mentioned, we have contacted the PRC. I'm not going to get into their reaction, I refer you to them for that. But we have clearly communicated that this balloon is violating U.S. airspace and international law, and that this is unacceptable. Thank you. Go over here and then go over here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Sir. Is the Pentagon looking at any possibility of maybe altering the course of the balloons? Take it to a location where they could shoot it down in a rural area?

GEN. RYDER: Again, monitoring, we're reviewing options, but I'm not going to go in any further specifics. Thank you. Sir?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Considering that this is a surveillance balloon, as you said, does it have ability to collect very sensitive data given that it flies over nuclear sites in the state of Montana?

GEN. RYDER: Yes. So again, I'm not going to get into intelligence. You know, as we mentioned in our statement last night, once the balloon was detected, we acted immediately to protect against the collection of sensitive information. And I'll just leave it at that. Thank you. Phil?

PHIL: Is there any nuclear or radioactive material aboard the balloon or is there anything that's aboard the balloon that that makes you believe that it could pose a risk if it were shot down?

GEN. RYDER: A short answer is, no. But again, right now, we do not assess that the balloon in its current configuration at approximately 60,000 feet, poses a physical or military threat to people on the ground. Thank you. Joe?

JOE: Ukraine question. The small diameter bomb in the latest Ukraine aid package has the potential to target Crimea. Is that the intent behind providing it now?

GEN. RYDER: So, thanks for the question, Joe. So yes, as part of the USAI package, we will be providing ground launch small diameter bombs to Ukraine. This gives them a longer-range capability, long range fires capability that will enable them again to conduct operations in defense of their country and to take back their sovereign territory in Russian occupied areas.


When it comes to Ukrainian plans on operations, clearly that is their decision they're in the lead for those so, I'm not going to talk about or speculate about potential future operations. But again, all along, we've been working with them to provide them with capabilities that will enable them to be effective on the battlefield.

JOE: And just as a follow up to that. Can you talk specifically about this particular group of capabilities? You know, how are they tailored to what's happening in Ukraine now. For instance, there's equipment that connects the various air defense systems. Just can you speak to why this specific package now?

GEN. RYDER: Yes, sure. So, again, it's important to look at this from an evolution standpoint in terms of adapting to the conditions on the ground. And so, we've been focused on several key areas in the last few months to support Ukraine, specifically air defense capabilities, armor capabilities, long range fires capabilities, and then combined with training in order to enable them to have the ability to conduct combined arms.

And so, looking at things like further enhancing and enabling their integrated air defense, which I think everyone continues to the watch with horror as Russia conducts aerial bombardment on civilian targets throughout Ukraine. So, working with them in those areas, but also, through those - through the combined arms training, enabling them to be able to change the equation on the front lines, not only defend their territory, but take back sovereign territory. Thank you. John?

KING: You've been listening to Brigadier General Pat Ryder, the Pentagon spokesman. A remarkable briefing some new information about a giant spy drama in the sky. A Chinese balloon over the central part of the continental United States, it was over a key Air Force Base in Montana, just yesterday or the day before, some new information. Also, some lack of information where General Ryder said some things are classified.

Let's get to one of our great correspondents, Alex Marquardt, standing by to help us through this. Alex, he said it's at 60,000 feet. He says it is maneuverable, meaning there's someone at a Chinese military base who's controlling this balloon, the decision not to shoot it down. General Ryder saying because of the fear, that heavy equipment onboard, the debris field could cause civilian deaths or casualties. But he says it is being closely monitored and options are on the table. Those options, of course, including shooting it down, perhaps trying to capture it. What else jumped out at you from this briefing?

ALEXANDER MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, when he was pressed as to the exact location of the balloon, he was said he wasn't going to be giving an hour-by-hour update. And when he was asked if it was classified, he said no, but if the American people wanted to see where it is, they can just look up in the sky, which is a rather glib answer, given the fact that it is flying at some 60,000 feet. That figure is a new detail from the Pentagon.

We had been told that it is in U.S. airspace, of course in the atmosphere, but not quite. In outer space, that is a very high- altitude, John, which of course makes the question over how to shoot it down whether to shoot it down even more complicated. There are only a handful of fighter jets, I'm told that can even get up that high.

But for the time being that that's not really the argument against shooting it down. The administration, the Pentagon holding firm, that it is simply too dangerous. And that for right now, there is no real point, they say that the balloon is not a danger to people on the ground.

As it flies to the sky, it is not a threat to Homeland Security. And they say that they have taken steps to prevent this balloon from carrying out its mission of surveillance of gathering intelligence. The president was briefed on military options.

He asked for military options were told and was told by his top commanders that it would not be a good idea to shoot this down simply because of the damage that it could do to people and property on the ground.

Remember, this thing is the size of three school buses. It is not just a balloon it has surveillance equipment on board with hold it has solar panels on board. So, you can imagine if this thing was shot down to some 60,000 feet, that that would create quite a bit of debris falling to the ground. So, for the time being despite the Monday morning back quarter quarterbacking.

And you know, questions from former officials, current officials, as to whether this is a smart idea to continue letting it fly through American airspace that is what they intend to do for now. They say of course, that they do have a number of options, should they change their mind. John?

KING: Alex Marquardt, of the state department. Appreciate the important context there. Come back when we get new reporting. Let's also go to other national security correspondent Kylie Atwood. So, Kylie, this happens, the timing is fascinating. Just as the Secretary of State Antony Blinken about to go to Beijing, that trip now postponed. It comes well if you look at the inbox, it's a polite way to put it of issues between the United States and China it was already pretty crowded, pretty complicated and pretty tense. And now the Chinese send a spy balloon over the continental United States. What are U.S. officials saying, can they answer the question, why and why now?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, that is the problem here is that they can't really answer exactly. You know why this is over the U.S. and a lot of this specific questions as to, you know, what the next few days here look like? We heard just from the Pentagon that this balloon is expected to be over the United States for a few days.