All the hoopla over the Chinese spy blimp, a.k.a. “weather balloon,” brought something to mind that I haven’t heard about in a long while.
Anybody remember the U-2 incident? And no, I don’t mean the rock band.
Francis Gary Powers was an American pilot whose Lockheed U-2 spy plane was shot down over the Soviet Union. He’s still a footnote to the Cold War—and still is from what I can tell. I haven’t heard his name come up among the talking heads or You Tubers or posts on Facebook. Maybe its because they can’t remember—or never knew about it—but when the Cold War was particularly icy, the episode was a huge deal.
Powers was a former Air Force pilot trained by the CIA to fly covert reconnaissance missions. Family members and friends believed he was a NASA weather reconnaissance pilot.
After the U-2 craft was spotted deep into Soviet territory, their military downed Powers’ plane in the Ural Mountains. He was captured, interrogated by the KGB and sentenced to three years in prison and seven more of hard labor. Lucky for Powers, he was exchanged for a Soviet spy after only two years of incarceration.
In the wake of the U2 incident, a conference between the Soviet Union, the US, Great Britain and France was cancelled–which reminds me a bit of Secretary of State Antony Blinken postponing his trip to China.
I’ll admit that I was dubious when I read a friend’s text last week about a Chinese spy balloon sailing over the US. I was sure it was an internet hoax. A Chinese balloon sailing across the American continent? Are you kidding me?
Seems this airship was especially interested in atmospheric conditions around sensitive sites such as Air Force bases and missile silos.
On Friday, I heard mention of Kansas City. Then on Saturday, I looked up the whereabouts of the balloon. It had been seen hovering over Asheville, moved across North Carolina and was later shot down off Myrtle Beach.
How weird is this story? Let me put it to you this way. A week ago, nobody would believe such a tale. I’m not even sure anybody would believe this plotline if it were a TV movie.
A friend from my college days in Missouri said a man in his hometown saw the balloon sailing overhead near Interstate 70. My cousin in Illinois said that in her part of the state, everyone was on the lookout Friday. And when I was having these conversations, it never occurred to me to look overhead myself.
There are a lot of questions to be answered over last week’s balloon incident.
Critics of President Biden questioned why he did not insist that the balloon be shot down when it was hanging out in Montana, or earlier, over Alaska. Or why a similar incident near Hawaii went unreported a while back.
Others lambasted President Trump for ignoring Chinese spy balloons that reportedly encroached US air space during his Administration. Those incidents are said to have involved Texas, Florida and the US territory of Guam.
When Powers was shot down in 1960, international tensions were high, as they are now. If the U-2 incident taught us anything, it was that international espionage involves both us and them.
I’m not naïve enough to believe that the United States doesn’t conduct reconnaissance missions into China. I hope we’re using something sturdier than a balloon and that we don’t expect the craft to operate in plain sight for days on end.
Meanwhile, I’ve read that the Chinese are upset about losing their “weather balloon.” After the shoot-down on Saturday, they issued a statement calling the action a violation of international practice and threatened repercussions.