Okay, I was told that a file folder was blown out of a dumpster near Joe Biden’s beach place in Delaware, and somehow it made its way into my inbox.
I figured it was a gag, but opened it anyway. Across the top of the single page inside it said:
”Supremely Confidential— Eyes Only February 4, 2023”
SUBJECT: The Chinese Balloon & Critical National Security interests at or near Myrtle Beach.
FROM: National Security Staff
Sir: FYI, we strongly recommend the following key features of the Atlantic coastal area around Myrtle Beach South Carolina, which the Chinese balloon is now approaching, be seriously considered as the basis for decisive action to take down this intruder.
Numerous sources confirm that the region is heavily populated by an allegedly endangered species of corpulent bipeds, who some say feel themselves at grave risk from enhanced IRS enforcement, Medicaid expansion, prescription drug caps and other environmental toxins.
The Weather Service reports that coastal winds aloft remain highly variable, and could send the balloon veering back over this beach region at any moment. In assessing options, we urge careful attention to the data below. It was gathered by our confidential humint sources on the scene, and phoned in between holes on secure lines. Note that in such reports, the species is referred to by the slang term “golfers”:
— Annual household income of $125,000 — Golfers are middle to high income people — 44% invest so they can retire early — 90% of Fortune 500 CEO’s are golfers — 1 in 3 golfers are in top level management — 91% of golfers are homeowners — 38% are interested in purchasing a luxury leisure property — Average home value: $480,000 — Avid PGA Tour viewers are 2x as likely to own 2nd homes — 32% of golfers own at least 3 vehicles — 28% spent over $40,000 on their last vehicle —The Average golfer plays 60 rounds each year, practices 1 hour 11 minutes each week, and plays for 4.5 hours each week. That’s 300 hours each year at a golf course . . . .
Sir, we still stand by our earlier advice to ignore the balloon’s passage over Montana; as one humint source said, “Even if they drop a few bombs, why scramble the jets and make an international incident over what would most likely be a few extra well-done burgers?” We believe that worked out well, despite local political complaints.
But Myrtle Beach is different.
The golfer species there clusters on at least 80 courses (other unconfirmed sources say the number is 100-plus, though we suspect some disinformation here).
We’re also aware that the local species skews strongly MAGA. But in private many are known to hedge their donation bets and swing both ways. Not to mention their early presidential primary next year.
All this we believe makes protection of this rare habitat, also known as The Golf Coast, a national security action priority. . . .”
The last couple of lines were smudged, but I could make out the words, “I concur, Jill”in ball point.
I think the Archives people will be here any minute to pick up the sheet; they can decide whether it’s really legit. But I wanted to share it in the meantime.Now, for a non-satirical view:
GWYNNE DYER: The Great Game of the superpowers showed its hand, but has America’s ‘floaty-bag’ problem been solved?
‘The details will quickly fade from the American public’s memory, but the impression will remain that somebody, and probably somebody Chinese, has been spying on them in their own homes’
The United States has been having “a bit of a floaty-bag problem over its airspace,” as South Africa’s Daily Maverick news site put it.
Indeed, it has.
Four balloons or other flying objects shot down by the U.S. Air Force over American or Canadian territory in eight days got everybody’s attention and made the already fragile state of U.S.-Chinese relations a good deal worse.
But it all turns out to be an innocent mistake. Sort of.
The first unknown flying object, a big Chinese balloon — 70 metres high, with an instrument payload the size of several buses — was obviously in the wrong place. It was clearly designed to gather ‘sigint’ (signals intelligence), but flying it across the United States, even 20 kilometres up, was just asking for trouble.
Are the Chinese really that stupid?
No, they aren’t. Mumbled explanations to the Washington Post by embarrassed American officials who must remain nameless have now revealed that the U.S. intelligence services saw the balloon launched from Hainan island off the southern Chinese coast in late January — and it was headed straight east for the U.S.-owned island of Guam.
Guam is the major U.S. air and naval base in the western Pacific and an obvious target for a military reconnaissance balloon. National airspace only extends 12 nautical miles from a country’s coasts, so a steerable balloon could monitor all communications and other electronic emissions from an island like Guam without crossing the legal boundary.
The Chinese balloon had propellors and a rudder, so it was steerable within limits. China has actually sent balloons past Guam before and the U.S. didn’t complain because it does the same sort of thing with its own reconnaissance aircraft, skimming along the edge of Chinese airspace.
It’s all part of the Great Game.
However, this time was different. On Jan. 24, when the balloon was passing directly south of Japan, it veered north and began speeding up. Exceptionally cold air over northern China and Japan had drawn the high-altitude jet stream south and it scooped up the balloon, also high in the stratosphere, and carried it north and east across the Pacific.
The winds were too strong for the Chinese balloon’s limited propulsion system to counter, so, on Jan. 28, it entered Alaskan airspace and continued east into Canada, where it was then blown south by more strong winds, entering U.S. airspace again over Montana.
At this point, the Chinese also picked up a share of the blame because, when the now manageable wind took their balloon past the American missile fields in Montana, they stopped and hovered for a while to have a longer look and listen.
The U.S. authorities were initially reluctant to shoot the balloon down because they knew the whole story. But they wouldn’t say what they knew because that would reveal U.S. surveillance capabilities, so the political pressure to do something grew. Finally, President Biden gave the shoot-down order — waiting until the balloon was safely over the Atlantic.
So, it’s just a simple story of everyday superpower folk getting it wrong and apologies are due all around. But the Chinese won’t elaborate on their original story that it was just an errant weather balloon and the U.S. won’t apologize at all. Like the four-year-olds they so often resemble, the Masters of the Universe find it almost impossible to make a real apology.
Meanwhile, what about the other three other objects that were shot down? They were much smaller and came in a variety of shapes and shades: “cylindrical, silver gray, with no sign of visible propulsion;” “a small, metallic balloon with a tethered payload below it;” “octagonal, with strings attached.”
They were shot down too, said John Kirby, the National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications, “out of an abundance of caution.” But, on Tuesday, he had to go out on the White House stage again and confess that those three had probably been completely harmless. “Benign,” as he put it.
“These could be balloons that were simply tied to commercial or research entities and, therefore, benign,” he said. In fact, this was the “leading explanation” under consideration.
The entities involved will face very serious legal problems if they are ever identified, but we can consider the ‘floaty-bag problem’ to be solved.
Was there any lasting damage? Yes, of course there was.
These incidents have held the U.S. media’s attention for more than a week. The details will quickly fade from the American public’s memory, but the impression will remain that somebody, and probably somebody Chinese, has been spying on them in their own homes.
This will not help in the task of calming the growing hostility between the world’s two greatest powers.
Gwynne Dyer’s new book is “The Shortest History of War”