Washington: A Chinese spy balloon that flew across the US was able to gather intelligence from several sensitive American military sites and transmit it back to Beijing in real-time, despite the Biden administration’s efforts to block it, a media report said Monday.
A suspected Chinese spy balloon said to be the size of three buses, was spotted over the airspace of the United States in late January.
China was able to control the balloon so it could make multiple passes over some of the sites (at times flying figure-eight formations) and transmit the information it collected back to Beijing in real time, NBC News reported, quoting three unnamed officials.
The intelligence China collected was mostly from electronic signals, which can be picked up from weapons systems or include communications from base personnel, rather than images, the officials were quoted as saying in the report.
The three officials said China could have gathered much more intelligence from sensitive sites if not for the Biden administration’s efforts to move around potential targets and obscure the balloon’s ability to pick up their electronic signals by stopping them from broadcasting signals, the report said.
The balloon first entered US airspace from Alaska January 28, according to the Biden administration.
Over the next four days, it was flying over the Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana, where the US has some of its nuclear assets.
The development further strained the already tense bilateral ties between the US and China, with the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken abruptly postponed his key visit to Beijing in February this year.
The US National Security Council has referred NBC News to the Defence Department for comment.
In its response, Beijing maintained that the balloon was a Chinese “civilian airship” which had deviated from its planned route.
“The airship is from China. It is a civilian airship used for research, mainly meteorological purposes,” the spokesperson of the Chinese foreign ministry said in a statement posted on the Chinese foreign ministry’s website.
February 4, the US shot down the balloon off the coast of South Carolina.
“This afternoon, at the direction of President Biden, US fighter aircraft assigned to US Northern Command successfully brought down the high altitude surveillance balloon launched by and belonging to the People’s Republic of China over the water off the coast of South Carolina in US airspace,” Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin had said.
US officials said they tried to reconstruct the balloon from the debris recovered.