In the depths of the Second World War the Japanese empire tried to start a plague of forest fires in the United States with squadrons of incendiary balloons. It failed, although six civilians were killed in a single successful balloon bombing in Oregon in May 1945.
In February 1942 there was what people at the time thought was an aerial battle above Los Angeles. Later the authorities said everyone had been shooting at nothing. Although some theorists said it was aliens, this episode was eventually attributed to the release of one or more weather balloons by army meteorologists. Spotters mistook them for Japanese airships, causing anti-air guns across the region to open fire for an entire evening and night.
A supposed alien crash site discovered in Roswell, New Mexico, in 1947 and subsequent alleged cover-up was later revealed to be the result of an early spy balloon – part of the classified Project Mogul – landing unexpectedly in small-town America. Naturally, the authorities wanted to keep this under wraps. What they spawned instead was eighty years of UFO mania.
Balloons and war and espionage: in American eyes, it’s a potent brew.
Now another alleged spy balloon is floating across America – at the moment it seems to be Chinese, and to be gently making its way across Montana.
To understate things a little, this has captured a lot of attention. It’s on the front page of everything; there are many jokes doing the rounds. All of this makes it essentially the opposite of “covert” operations. Is a spy balloon really a problem if you can see and laugh at it? [Continue reading…]