BILLINGS - The Pentagon has confirmed Thursday night a strange object spotted in the sky over Billings on Wednesday was a Chinese spy balloon, prompting one Montana lawmaker to take action against China.
The balloon had apparently been hovering over the northern U.S. for the past several days and had many in the Billings area wondering what it could possibly be.
President Joe Biden has been briefed on the situation.
The Department of Defense says this has happened before in the country, and it is tracking that balloon and that balloon is not a physical or military threat.
It's a site that had people talking all across southern Montana. But we're now learning the strange sight in the sky has been on the government's radar for days.
At a Pentagon briefing Thursday, a senior defense official said: "We have been tracking it for some time," saying "it entered the continental US airspace a couple of days ago."
When asked whether the balloon was trying to collect intelligence on Montana's missile silos, a senior defense official said: "Clearly the intent of this balloon is for surveillance. And so the current flight path does carry it over a number of sensitive sites. We know exactly where this balloon is exactly what it is passing over."
The Department of Defense does not believe the surveillance led to any taking of sensitive information and says other instances of the activity like this have been observed in previous years. But that does little to assure many here in Montana.
"This is a perfect example of why we need Senate Bill 203," said Montana Senator Ken Bogner, R-Miles City. "This really shows that there are nations out there that want to spy on us. Senate Bill 203 prevents those adversarial nations from purchasing our ag production land and our critical infrastructure. So this is... quite an example of exactly what I'm trying to prevent here with this bill."
Bogner is sponsoring legislation aimed at keeping adversarial nations from acquiring land and critical infrastructure in Montana, a bill he says he was motivated to sponsor because of land recently purchased by a Chinese company just 15 miles from the Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota.
"The Ag production land hits issues of food security, we help feed the entire nation," Bogner said. "And the critical infrastructure is things like oil refineries, telecommunication facilities. So it's a plethora of things to make sure that we're protected as much as we can ber here in the state."
As for the balloon, the Department of Defense says it did consider shooting it down.
But a senior official said: "It was large enough to cause damage from the debris field if we downed it over an area. We just couldn't buy down the risk enough to feel comfortable recommending shooting it down."