By Herman Tiu Laurel

The 'spy balloon' saga bursts

February 21, 2023, 8:20 am

The NPR (National Public Radio) is a quasi-autonomous, government-funded nonprofit media outlet created by the US federal government. On its Feb. 16 headline blared ‘Biden says the 3 aerial objects shot down were not Chinese spy balloons’... President Joe Biden will soon speak with Chinese President Xi Jinping about the surveillance balloon the US military shot down early this month.”

On the Feb. 18 edition of NPR, one major headline was ‘Blinken meets with China’s top diplomatic in first meeting since the balloon controversy’... US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with China's top diplomat, Wang Yi, on Saturday. It is the highest level of contact between the two countries since the “discovery” of a Chinese surveillance balloon over US airspace earlier this month.”

We will recall how the “spy balloon” saga started Feb. 4 when the first balloon was spotted flying towards Alaska from the Bering Sea, meandering to Canada and back into the US and out the coast of South Carolina where it was shot down.

China insisted it was just a wayward meteorological balloon while another report said the first balloon was not even Chinese but from an American company. I remember writing about that confusion of the first balloon which Reuters has insisted in its report was an American balloon, but the confusion got even more confused as other balloons popped in the continuing reports and balloons traversing South America and other parts of the world became part of the global hyperventilation of the “balloon mania” -- only now in the middle of February all to be shot down by the White House itself.

After deflating the spy balloon mania and the cancelled visit of US Secretary Blinken to China, Blinken finally meets China’s top diplomat Wang Yi in Munich, Germany. The Munich Security Conference is held annually to assess the state of the EU and its trans-Atlantic relations with the US.

I remember my last articles on Munich Security Conference sometime 2020 when its theme was “Westlessness” -- the sense of drift and abandonment of Europe. Europe is even more lost today. There are lessons to be learned from the “spy balloon” saga, the first being to be very careful about US information war operations which the spy balloon tall tale was.

Thinking people were alert immediately to the flaws of the story, asking questions such as why would any party, most of all China which has 300 Baidou satellite a third of those being with military applications, need to use an unsteerable balloon for intel operations?

To keen observers the diversionary purpose of the spy balloon story is obvious; however, the question that has yet to be answered is - diversion from what? The first theory is that it was used as an excuse to scuttle the special Blinken bilateral talks requested by the US with China agreed upon at the 2022 G20 meet in Bali, Indonesia to resume critical negotiations on climate change and such critical issues suspended by China in retaliation to the provocative Pelosi visit that earlier that year.

Another theory is that the spy balloon story was floated anticipating the Seymour Hersh exposé of the direct hand of President Joe Biden, circumventing US laws going around the requirement of congressional consultation in covert action, giving direct instructions to executive officials Blinken, Nuland and Sullivan to use the US Navy to bomb of Nord Stream 2.

The spy balloon caper did not stop the exposé but may have diffused the impact somewhat. The whole balloon escapade is a lesson for Filipinos not to believe US media too readily, to be on guard for deception and diversionary intent of US news campaigns.

“Deep State” and its tentacles that spreads out to European, Australian, Singaporean and Philippines media -- and partly Indian media. As we write and discuss at this moment, the US influence operations in Philippine media is 24/7.

To cite some direct US concoction of stories in the Philippines, let me cite the reportage of ABS-CBN in April 2021 claiming she was chased by Chinese Coast Guard at Ayungin Shoal.

The story was subsequently exposed by then Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and presidential adviser Sal Panelo as fake news citing practical evidence. Another is the US similarity report in 2021 in conjunction with the Albert Del Rosario Institute and Stratbase webinar in 2021 reporting Chinese vessels spewing human sewage in the South China Sea complete with photos.

The photos were later exposed by DND’s Lorenzana as photo from Australia taken n 2014. There are current fake news in our national media designed put PHL-China relations in a bad light -- can you cite the latest one? I can cite dozens.


Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in the foregoing article are solely the author’s and do not reflect the opinions and beliefs of the Philippine News Agency (PNA) or any other office under the Presidential Communications Office.


About the Columnist

Image of Herman Tiu Laurel

Herman Tiu Laurel is a veteran journalist and founder of think tank PHILIPPINE-BRICS Strategic Studies.