A few replies/observations of comments from a number of people.
Any footage from a jet intercepting these objects most likely won't be seen. If they are intercepting and shooting down "party balloons", the optics would be pretty bad. We (GPSL group members) are already deriding them for wasting $500,000 missiles on "party balloons" without any proof.
Clearly marked payloads. Hmm, take that signage off your payload and staple it to a fence post on the side of the road. Now drive by at 100 miles per hour. Were you able to read all of the information, and jot down the telephone number? Most of the intercept aircraft in use won't be able to park beside a balloon-borne payload and copy down the information on the payload.
American flag as a safety mechanism/ means of assuring people of the harmless nature of the object... The old stars and stripes don't make everyone all warm and fuzzy, conjuring up an image of a nice warm slice of apple pie.
Easy and simple to look up and identify... if you know where to look. Try googling "spy balloon tracking site". Sondehub doesn't show up as the top answer.
We have one large balloon borne payload that was claimed by China as being their payload. China suggests it was a meteorological sensing payload. The US government suspects it to possibly be designed to be gathering intelligence information. Can you trust the Chinese government to be 100% truthful? Can you trust the US government to be 100% truthful?
If the remains of the Chinese balloon payload could be recovered and enough bits assembled to determine what it was up to, the general public will probably never know. If it was harmless, the US government will not admit that they shot down a harmless scientific instrument. If it was indeed spying on military installations or gathering other counter-intelligence information for the Chinese government, details of that will never be provided either.
The subsequent "volkswagen sized" objects which may or may not be ARHAB pico balloons aren't going to be reported as being harmless ARHAB payloads after being shot down by $500,000 missiles. The optics are horrible.
If for some reason the US military did create a press release and identify that they had shot down multiple ARHAB payloads out of an abundance of caution, in the guise of national safety, how does that look for the ARHAB community? You've probably all seen the ignorant backlash when an ARHAB flight makes the media rounds. Maybe not so much now with so many stories of people sending tacos, and stuffed animals, or Lego astronauts to "space". Back a couple decades ago when we flew our third flight, it went viral on Reddit and Gizmodo, and other sites. The usual fear mongering of "You're causing a hazard to aircraft!", or "This could crash into my house and damage my roof!" comments were all over the place. People don't bother to educate themselves, they just make up a problem and then run around making senseless noise.
At best, the general public become aware of our ARHAB circumnavigations and turn on the ARHAB community for wasting millions of US taxpayer money by forcing the US military to shoot down these silly payloads that are causing worldwide panic. That doesn't paint the ARHAB community in a good light. As with just about anything, you and I might do our due diligence and make sure that our payloads follow every single letter of the law, and we fly perfectly legally. It just takes someone doing something stupid to shut it all down. Even just the general public getting an incorrect sense that these legal flights are causing an issue might get the ability to fly revoked.
Look at the "All Cops Are Bad!" stuff going on. There are many videos of police abusing their power, and infringing on the rights of private citizens. Does that mean that every police officer is committing those crimes? Obviously not, but let's tar them all with the same brush.
As stated earlier, it is probably best to curtail any new flights for the next period of time until the hysteria dies down. Let the ruffled feathers smooth out, and once the public have found a new issue to rally around, then we can go back to enjoying a niche hobby that brings many joy, and provide countless opportunities to delve into the many educational facets of this hobby.