Chinese ‘spy balloon’ that flew over US gathered intelligence from sensitive military sites, officials say
The suspected Chinese spy balloon that flew over the US was able to gather intelligence from several sensitive American military sites, officials have said.
China was able to steer the surveillance balloon so it could make multiple passes over some of the sites and transmit the information it collected back to Beijing in real time, our news partners NBC have reported.
This is despite the White House trying to stop it from doing so, according to two current senior US officials and one former senior administration official.
First spotted by the US on 28 January, it was eventually shot down on 4 February off the coast of South Carolina.
The spy balloon incident saw simmering tensions between the US and China boil over with Beijing claiming the balloon was an unmanned civilian airship that accidentally strayed off course, and that Washington overreacted by shooting it down.
The balloon would fly in a figure-of-eight pattern above sites as it collected information, mostly from electronic signals, which can be picked up from weapons systems or include communications from base personnel, rather than images, the three officials said.
They said China could have gathered much more intelligence from sensitive sites if not for efforts by Joe Biden’s administration to move around potential targets and obscure the balloon’s ability to pick up their electronic signals by stopping them from broadcasting or emitting signals.
US recovers ‘key sensors’ from Chinese spy balloon
What are spy balloons?
The balloon had a self-destruct mechanism that could have been activated remotely by China, but the officials said it’s not clear if that didn’t happen because the mechanism malfunctioned or because China decided not to trigger it.
Crews were able to recover significant amounts of debris from where the balloon landed after it was shot down, including “all of the priority sensor and electronics pieces identified as well as large sections of the structure”.
Officials have tried to reconstruct the balloon from the debris recovered, NBC reported.
The US government released a photo of the balloon taken from the cockpit of an American spy plane before it was shot down.
It was followed by a further three unidentified objects being shot down over North American airspace.