Why Black people should care about Chinese spy balloon and national security

Black Americans, like all Americans, should be concerned about the recent emergence of these aerial objects, given the history and racial implications.

President Joe Biden updated the American public on the state of national security last week after the U.S. government shot down a Chinese spy balloon and other aerial objects recently seen flying over the country and other parts of North America.

During his brief remarks, the president assured the nation that there is increased security in U.S. airspace since the intelligence-gathering balloon was shot down on Feb. 4 and that through enhanced radar detection, U.S. fighter jets shot down three other yet-to-be-identified, unmanned objects “out of an abundance of caution.”

President Joe Biden speaks on Feb. 16, 2023 about the U.S. response to the high-altitude Chinese spy balloon and three other unidentified objects that the U.S. military recently shot down over American and Canadian airspace from the South Court Auditorium at the White House Complex in Washington, D.C. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

To assure Americans of their safety, Biden announced that his administration is taking additional measures to better secure U.S. airspace.

The idea of China, or any other foreign actor, surveilling the United States has put many Americans on alert. It may be especially troubling to Black Americans, who are statistically less trusting of the government than white Americans. 

“Surveillance has been just a horror for the Black community,” Asha Castleberry-Hernandez, a national security strategist and founder of the Diversity in National Security Network (DINSN), told theGrio.

The former Army veteran and national security advisor to the Obama and Biden administrations pointed to the routine history of Black people being surveilled, from the controversial COINTELPRO era of former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to decades of racial profiling by law enforcement. However, she noted, “It’s not just a domestic concern.” 

What is hybrid warfare and how has it been used on Black people?

A Chinese spy balloon is in flight on Feb. 4, 2023 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Peter Zay/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Castleberry-Hernandez said the recent case of the Chinese spy balloon reminds us of the potential dangers of global surveillance and other hybrid warfare tactics used by foreign governments. Hybrid warfare is any nontraditional warfare style, she explained.

When using hybrid warfare, governments use disinformation, economic instruments and other tools to influence geopolitics in their favor. “It’s so many different factors that play out in terms of how warfare is conducted,” said Castleberry-Hernandez. 

She pointed to modern examples like Russia’s influence campaign in the 2016 presidential election during which the U.S. competitor used disinformation to “exacerbate tensions” between Black Americans and white supremacist groups.

The national security expert also called attention to a similar Chinese misinformation campaign around the 2020 murder of George Floyd, which she said was “way more direct.”

“China was able to use that as a way to…  chip away at American global leadership, especially in places like Hong Kong and our allies and partners in Africa,” said Castleberry-Hernandez.

Should Black Americans be concerned about the Chinese spy balloon?

Given the history and racial implications, Castleberry-Hernandez noted that Black Americans, like all Americans, should be concerned about the recent emergence of the Chinese spy balloon earlier this month. She said the collection of intelligence on behalf of the Republic of China is a “violation of our sovereignty and international law.”

Echoing Biden’s message on Thursday, Castleberry-Hernandez said while the U.S. is “well-positioned to engage” China and other “near-peer competitors” like Russia, the country, she expects, will continue to be a target of foreign nations that wish “to collect intelligence on us as a way to find a vulnerability or a weakness to use that to their advantage in the near future.”

“We are in the era of strategic competition,” she added. Geopolitical tensions aside, she stressed the importance of the United States “using tough and healthy diplomacy” with the Chinese.

Balloon models bearing Chinese and Americans flags are displayed on screens on Feb. 14, 2023 in this multiple exposure illustration photo taken in Krakow, Poland. (Photo by Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

“Diplomacy matters, especially since post-World War II, where we built up international organizations like the United Nations to ensure that the world no longer engages in major conventional warfare, where we’re not engaged with warfare that kills millions of people,” the former Army major explained. “Going to war again with a state actor like China or Russia is not necessarily in our strategic interest. So we want to maximize all our diplomatic tools as much as possible.”

However, responding diplomatically doesn’t mean that the U.S. won’t turn to “hard security” as the country is currently doing in the Russian war in Ukraine, where our government is providing military assistance to Ukraine.

Why should Black Americans care about national security?

While the faces of those talking about and working in U.S. national security are often old, white and male, the faces of Black people must be among them for many reasons, Castleberry-Hernandez said. It’s why she founded the Diversity in National Security Network. 

“Historically, Black people have been part of our national security; we have served in every single war since the American Revolutionary War up until now. So that is just an incredible contribution [to] the United States,” she said. 

Castleberry-Hernandez noted that when it comes to foreign threats, Black Americans are sometimes disproportionately impacted. She named the COVID-19 pandemic as one example. 

“It’s very important that Black America is involved in the policymaking when it comes to national security policy, because … not only [do] they understand the issues, but [they] understand the impacts and how this can affect our communities,” she stated.

Conspiracy theory of alien craft and extraterrestrial activity

On the heels of the news about the United States shooting down unmanned and unidentified objects, conspiracy theories quickly spread about the nature of the military action, particularly after Glen VanHerck, commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command, told reporters he hadn’t “ruled out anything” when asked about the possibility of the objects being extraterrestrial. 

That response only stirred up more speculation, leading White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre to deny the assertion from the press briefing podium last Monday. “There is no, again, no indication of aliens or extraterrestrial activity with these recent takedowns,” she said. 

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre speaks on Feb. 13, 2023 during the daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Castleberry-Hernandez echoed the White House message. “Our press secretary is correct that it’s not true. It is a difficult approach because we’re in the information age,” she said, referring to conspiracies.

She added, “There’s so much information flying around, and sometimes, people don’t know what to believe, but definitely believe in the administration when it comes to providing accurate information on what is going on.”

Castleberry-Hernandez encouraged the public to stay engaged with the U.S. government, including their representatives in Congress, for consistent and accurate information.

She also said her organization can be a resource. “[The] Diversity in National Security Network … can help filter out that disinformation and provide accurate information to you … that’s accurate, that’s not biased and it’s just providing you the truth.”

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