Chinese balloon drifting overhead causes stir

A high altitude balloon floats over Billings, Mont., on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023. The huge, high-altitude Chinese balloon sailed across the U.S. on Friday, drawing severe Pentagon accusations of spying and sending excited or alarmed Americans outside with binoculars. Secretary of State Antony Blinken abruptly canceled a high-stakes Beijing trip aimed at easing U..S.-China tensions.(Larry Mayer/The Billings Gazette via AP)

Missouri's leaders have collectively shaken their fists at a suspected spy balloon drifting over Mid-Missouri.

According to the Associated Press, China claimed the balloon was a weather research "airship" that had blown off course. The Pentagon rejected that out of hand, along with China's contention the balloon, about the size of two school buses, was not being used for surveillance and had only limited navigational ability.

The balloon was detected earlier over sensitive military sites in Montana but moved eastward over the heartland of the central United States by midday and was expected to remain in U.S. airspace for several days, officials told the AP.

The National Weather Service Kansas City tweeted at 11:30 a.m. Friday that several sightings had been reported in Northwest Missouri. The service confirmed it was not a balloon from the National Weather Service.

What appeared to be the Chinese balloon was sighted around 1:30 p.m. Friday in Columbia.

The Jefferson City Police Department said it received several calls Friday reporting sightings of the balloon.

U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Missouri, demanded in a letter to Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Gary Peters, D-Michigan, that an investigation into the suspected surveillance balloon be conducted.

He, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson and others criticized the Biden administration for its lack of action.

"As confirmed today by the Pentagon, there is currently a Chinese surveillance balloon moving across the United States. ... Yet rather than shooting down or otherwise disabling this high-altitude balloon, the Biden administration is merely 'monitoring the situation' and referring reporters to the Chinese government for answers," Hawley said. "This is a gross violation of American sovereignty."

Parson complained he'd had "zero communication" from the Biden administration concerning the balloon.

"We have heard no explanation or plan to remove it," Parson tweeted. "Why has this been allowed to reach our heartland? Why has it not been eliminated?"

He also said he intends to stay in contact with the Missouri National Guard, law enforcement and security partners to "monitor the safety of Missourians."

The Missouri National Guard had not responded to calls from the News Tribune at press time.

"It's deeply disturbing that a Chinese spy balloon is flying over Missouri, the home of powerful military bases," tweeted Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe of Jefferson City. "The fact that Missourians can see a surveillance object from a hostile nation from the ground is unacceptable."

The Pentagon announced it will continue to monitor the balloon.