The Chinese spy balloon that spied on the US for weeks earlier this year used American technology, according to a preliminary report of the investigation.
Officials revealed the balloon was equipped with American-made equipment that facilitated the collection of photos, videos, and other information – but didn’t appear to transmit them, according to a Wall Street Journal exclusive.
Several defense and intelligence agencies, along with the FBI, analyzed the debris recovered after the US military intercepted and brought down the balloon nearly five months ago.
The investigation revealed that the balloon contained a combination of off-the-shelf American equipment, some of which was available for purchase online, along with specialized Chinese sensors and other tools designed to gather and transmit data.
The recent US findings contradict China’s claim that it was used for weather monitoring and not spying, which exacerbated mistrust and remains a source of tension between the two nations
A fighter jet flies near the remnants of the balloon after it was struck by a missile over the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of South Carolina near Myrtle Beach, Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023
The Chinese balloon flies in the sky over Billings, Montana on February 1. Officials have now revealed the balloon was equipped with American-made equipment that facilitated the collection of photos, videos, and other information – but didn’t appear to transmit them
The presence of both types of equipment suggests that the balloon was intended for surveillance purposes, rather than benign scientific observation.
The officials described the Chinese spy balloon as a clever attempt by Beijing to conduct surveillance using a combination of readily available and specialized equipment.
During its eight-day journey traversing the country over Alaska, Canada, and other states, the balloon gathered data but apparently did not transmit it back to China, officials told the the Wall Street Journal.
It remains unclear whether this was due to a malfunction or if countermeasures deployed by the US military prevented the transmission of information.
This incident added further strain to the already tense US-China relationship.
Recently, however, the Biden administration and the Chinese leadership have initiated a desire to move past the balloon incident.
President Biden characterized the balloon as ‘more embarrassing than intentional’ for the Chinese leadership, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated that as long as such incidents do not recur, the chapter should be closed.
However, Chinese leaders have warned that should U.S. investigators’ report on the balloon become public, Beijing will be forced into a strong reaction, potentially derailing high-level engagement.
Navy sailors recover a high-altitude surveillance balloon off the coast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, in the Atlantic ocean on February 5th
Sailors gather debris recovered off the coast of Myrtle Beach in the Atlantic Ocean from the shooting down of the Chinese ‘spy’ balloon for transport to the FBI
An F-22 Raptor fighter jet fired a single AIM-9X missile to take down a Chinese spy balloon and its payload, which was equipped with cameras, sensors and radars
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Blinken are expected to travel to Beijing in upcoming months, both attempt to plan a meeting between Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping later this year.
New evidence this week uncovered by BBC, also shows China’s spy balloon program over Japan and Taiwan.
Japan has confirmed balloons have flown over its territory and said it’s prepared to shoot them down in future, according to the BBC report.
China has not directly addressed the evidence presented by the BBC.
The path of the intelligence collecting balloons which flew over the United States in February
The Chinese ‘spy balloon’ that flew across the US in February gathered intelligence from several American military sites before it was shot down.
The balloon entered US airspace on January 28th and was shot down on February 4th after passing over US nuclear missile sites, including the Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana.
China was reportedly able to control the balloon as it passed over the same site in figures of eights.
This allowed it to transmit information in real time, the officials warned.
Information collected from electronic signals can be picked up from weapons systems or communications between personnel on the base.
The balloon, which Beijing previously denied was a government spy vessel, launched from southern China in late January.
It then drifted east and entered US airspace over Alaska and was first tracked as it flew over Malmstrom Air Force base in Montana, where nuclear assets are stored.
Biden was briefed two days later and elected to shoot it down over the Atlantic a week after it entered the US.
Biden had reportedly called for the balloon to be shot down ‘ASAP,’ but was advised to wait by the US military.
It was able to cross the continent before it was shot down over the ocean for safety.
American jets monitored the object as it passed.
President Joe Biden has downplayed the recent Chinese spy balloon that drifted across the US, as his Secretary of State Antony Blinken heads to Beijing
With his visit to Beijing this weekend, Blinken is set to become the highest-ranking US government official to visit China since Biden took office in January 2021
The spy balloon, which US officials say had rudimentary flight controls, passed over a number of US nuclear missile facilities
On 4 February, the Air Force sent an F-22 fighter jet armed with an AIM-9X Sidewinder missile to take the balloon down over water.
Sailors were later assigned to recover the balloon from the Atlantic Ocean and are still analyzing it.
The balloon was found to have a self-destruct mechanism that could have been activated remotely from China.
The Biden administration at the time downplayed the seriousness of the spy balloon.
The President told Telemundo on February 9th: ‘It’s not a major breach. Look, the total amount of intelligence gathering that’s going on by every country around the world is overwhelming.’
He did say that the flight of the balloon was a ‘violation of international law’.
‘China has some legitimate difficulties unrelated to the United States. And I think one of the things that that balloon caused was not so much that it got shot down, but I don’t think the leadership knew where it was and knew what was in it and knew what was going on,’ said Biden.
‘I think it was more embarrassing than it was intentional,’ he added.