It has been nearly two months since a Chinese-owned and operated high-altitude balloon was spotted on January 28, 2023, in North American airspace over Alaska and then tracked over western Canada and parts of the United States before it was shot down on February 4 off the coast of South Carolina by a U.S. Air Force jet and the wreckage recovered and sent to an FBI lab. Three more high-altitude unidentified objects, most likely balloons, were detected, tracked and shot down over Northern Alaska (February 10), Yukon (February 11), and Lake Huron (February 11–12). Searches for the debris from those objects was called off before anything was retrieved. While the Chinese balloon was an obvious security violation, little additional information has been released about it, and virtually no intelligence has come out on the other three. It should come as no surprise that members of Congress are demanding answers and are frustrated by the lack of response from the White House and the Pentagon. Now a well-known private investigative group has filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for any and all information on the four incidents and received a very quick response … all of the documents, data and photographs pertaining to the four incidents has been classified and the request was turned down in its entirety. Are you suspicious yet?
“What is our capability to observe what’s in our airspace? There’s holes in it. We should understand what we can and cannot observe and understand what we need to do to be able to fill those gaps. The balloon surprising us — it was a big wake up call.”
Tim Gallaudet, the former administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told Politico that members of Congress were shook up by the sudden appearance of the balloon UFOs and are now frustrated by the lack of information – even in classified briefings. The news media reported after the shootdowns that these were not the first high-altitude balloons to be detected and tracked over U.S. airspace, so the lawmakers want answers on ow many foreign surveillance balloons have been tracked, what kind of system do we have for detection and tracking, and why the Chinese balloon was shot down while others in the past were not.
“We didn’t have, at that point, a clear policy on what to do.”
Senator Mark Warner of Virginia told Politico it was obvious the Pentagon was not ready with a clear response … which means it has never been ready with one. In Politico’s assessment, the reason for the lack of response from the White House is obvious: the administration is still trying to determine how bad the problem is.
“(There was a) domain awareness gap.”
That military-speak came from the military – specifically, from an unnamed official at North American Aerospace Defense Command discussing its detection and response policy. At a congressional hearing, Gen. Glen VanHerck, the commander of NORAD, said the three other UFOs shot down “clearly demonstrated the challenges associated with detecting and identifying unmanned objects in U.S. airspace.” This is not comforting, is it?
“UAP are objects that cannot be immediately identified and may exhibit anomalous behavior. Anomalous behavior means that DoD operators or sensors cannot make immediate sense of collected data, actions or activities.”
In other words, according to Susan Gough, a spokesperson for the Pentagon’s All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office (AARO), any unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP) that acts unusual is a problem for the current systems. If you’re not worried yet, Politico reveals that an unclassified report from the Office of the Director for National Intelligence said that there were at least 171 “uncharacterized and unattributed UAP reports last year. Remember, those are reports by Navy and the Air Force pilots equipped with the latest in military radar and technology. Politico’s inside source says despite all of this uncertainty in the system, the administration can’t decide how to update the technology and rules for detecting and tracking more UAPs, and deciding which ones to shoot down. IN the meantime, the AARO is still slowly digging through historical data on UFOs.
“I’ve set no expectation that there’s going to be some big public rollout of what we’ve learned.”
That’s from National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby on whether anything will be revealed to the public. This is no surprise to the folks at The Black Vault, an Internet archive of declassified government documents. On February 18, 2023, the organization’s founder, John Greenwald Jr., filed a Freedom of Information Act request for a copy of, “all visual imagery captured from the shootdown of balloons/Unidentified Aerial Objects…” and all classified/unclassified “…photos, videos, cockpit footage, personal cell phone photos/videos take by the pilots could have given to the DoD, etc.” these requests have obviously worked before – the Black Vault has a huge repository of documents and files obtained via Freedom of Information Act request. Not this time.
“The 1 Fighter Wing (1 FW) has conducted a thorough search for for responsive records to your request. Your request was processed under FOIA and was coordinated with the office of primary responsibility. Please note that, consistent with your request, under Exemption 1 and AFMAN 33-302, referencing Executive Order (EO) 13526 that apply to the continued classification of information, the requested information is withheld and not releasable.”
A month later, on March 21, 2023, the U.S. Air Force responded and denied the release of everything The Black Vault was asking for. The reason given was FOIA Exemption 1 – a clause which “protects from disclosure national security information concerning the national defense or foreign policy.” The Black Vault noted that while the request was sent to the Headquarters of the U.S. Air Force, however, it was responded to by Joint Base Langley, an Air Force base in Hampton, Virginia, adjacent to Newport News. Why was it sent there? Why was the request so swiftly and completely turned down? The Black Vault says it will file an appeal to fight the denial.
As of this writing, there are far more questions than answers about the four balloon UFO incidents in the U.S. this year. The U.S. Congress is having little luck getting information on them or on previous incidents, and no luck on getting answers as to why the military admittedly was ill-prepared for them. The public, in the form of The Black Vault, is having the same bad luck. What should we make of this? Are these balloons a greater risk to national security than they seem to be? Are they something other than human-made aerial objects?
Will we ever find out?