The Chinese spy balloon recalls the U-2 episode of the Cold War

The echo of the episode, however, is a reminder that powerful countries regularly spy on each other, which usually becomes a problem when it goes public or leads to misunderstanding or tragedy.

In 1983, a Soviet warplane shot down Korean Air Lines Flight 007 after veering into Russian airspace at night, killing 269 passengers and crew, including a US congressman. Moscow said the plane was mistaken for a spy plane. In 2001, a Chinese fighter jet got too close to a US EP-3E Aries II reconnaissance aircraft gathering intelligence over the South China Sea, forcing it to make an emergency landing on a Chinese basis.

“The United States and its allies sent spy balloons over the Soviet Union in the late 1940s,” said Michael Beschloss, author of “Mayday: Eisenhower, Khrushchev, and the U- 2”, published in 1986. “They did this to detect any danger of an imminent Soviet surprise attack and to assess the size of the Soviet military complex so that Truman and Eisenhower could assess how much they needed to spend on defense.

Eisenhower, he added, “believed that such intelligence gathering served peace by avoiding an unnecessary arms race that might lead to war.” Beginning in 1956, Eisenhower authorized the CIA to secretly send U-2 planes into Soviet territory, betting that their altitude of 70,000 feet would keep them undetected. At the same time, Eisenhower understood that the robberies could be considered an act of war and insisted on personally endorsing each one.

In fact, the thefts were detected. Khrushchev was aware of and furious with the intrusions into Soviet airspace, but he made no public protest because he did not want to reveal his army’s inability to stop them until a missile more sophisticated is developed.

As the Paris meeting approached in 1960, Eisenhower wanted to avoid any chance of disrupting the gathering and ordered U-2 flights to be halted well in advance. But after bad weather postponed a mission before the meeting, Richard Bissell, the father of the CIA program, persuaded the president to authorize a final flight on May 1, just two weeks before the meeting scheduled for May 16. .

“Even in the less conspiratorial era of 1960, some Americans wondered if belligerent figures in our Pentagon had deliberately sent the flight to destroy the summit,” Beschloss said. “Such questions will now be asked of the Chinese military.”


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