According to Biden administration officials, the Chinese balloon that crossed the U.S. had antennas and sensors for gathering intelligence and communications, providing the most thorough proof of China’s surveillance operation to date.
The administration was getting ready to take unspecified action against companies and entities linked to the Chinese balloon program, which the United States claims has spied on more than 40 countries across five continents, when a variety of officials from the Pentagon, State Department, and Federal Bureau of Investigation described the new information on Thursday.
The balloon was tracked for eight days as it traveled across the United States last week before being shot down on Saturday off the coast of the Atlantic. An array of numerous antennas, including one that could probably be used to locate the position of communications, were visible in images taken by high-altitude U-2 surveillance planes, according to a senior State Department official.
The balloon was discovered to have enormous solar panels on board that might have powered a number of intelligence gathering sensors during those U-2 and other reconnaissance missions. According to the State Department official, the balloon’s producer has a close link with the Chinese military.
As members of the FBI investigate the parts of the surveillance apparatus that are being collected from the waters off the coast of South Carolina, more details are anticipated in the upcoming days. Due to bad weather, the Navy stopped using divers in the search after midday on Thursday. A defense official warned that the delay might go into the weekend.
The government is making an effort to support its claim that the drone was made for high-altitude eavesdropping, not for civilian weather research, as China claimed, by releasing specific details. Additionally, it is attempting to allay congressional criticism of how it handled the balloon.
The House passed a resolution Thursday denouncing China for their “brazen violation of United States sovereignty” and requesting further information from the White House. The House is controlled by a Republican majority, and some of its members have lambasted the administration over the balloon.
The congressional debate centered largely on the Pentagon’s future plans to stop invasions, as well as why the balloon wasn’t shot down as it went over other areas of Alaska the next day after flying over the Aleutian Islands on January 28.
Members of Congress received briefings from administration officials during public hearings and during a rare closed-door meeting for all senators. According to congressional aides, discussions during the private briefing focused on the early reaction to the balloon, how senior administration officials were told, and funding for American air defenses.
Following the event, some Republican senators claimed to have a better understanding of the administration’s choices, however there were still some unanswered issues, such as what the United States benefited by permitting the balloon to sail over the country. They gave special recognition to the military’s accomplishments.
Sen. Kevin Cramer (R., N.D.) stated of the military, “I’m convinced that they did everything they should have, based on what they knew and what historical knowledge they had.” I’m content with that, then.
Pentagon officials stated that the balloon wasn’t considered to be a threat as it reached Alaska, where it didn’t pass over sensitive installations, in testimony to a Senate Appropriations subcommittee on defense.
The location of the potential fall of the debris from the Chinese craft has not yet been studied, they noted. They said that because the balloon was 200 feet tall and was carrying equipment the size of a small airplane, there was a significant risk to persons on the ground.
Due to the depth and chilly ocean conditions, shooting down the balloon in the waters outside Alaska would have made recovering it more challenging, according to Melissa Dalton, a senior Pentagon official in charge of homeland defense.
The Pentagon’s Joint Staff’s director of operations, Lt. Gen. Douglas Sims II, issued a warning, saying that shooting down an intruder that wasn’t considered a threat right away may prompt other countries to act swiftly if Western planes approached their boundaries.
Gen. Sims replied, “Once you fire, you can’t get it back.” “I believe it’s crucial for us to keep in mind that if we set that precedent… we may encounter the same precedent,”
We might produce something that works against us, he continued.
The United States has flown surveillance missions in international airspace near China’s borders despite Beijing’s repeated protests. In the South China Sea islands Beijing controls, a Chinese J-11 fighter came within 20 feet of a U.S. RC-135 surveillance plane in December.
Some members, particularly Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, a Republican, were unconvinced by the Pentagon’s evidence. Ms. Murkowski claimed that potential dangers to her state seemed to be the Pentagon’s secondary priority.
When do we declare a surveillance or spy balloon coming from China to be a danger to our sovereignty, she questioned. “It ought to be the instant it crosses the border, and Alaska is that boundary.
The Biden administration is anticipated to recommend additional expenditures and measures to close any gaps in its radar coverage and avert further balloon intrusions, according to Sen. Jon Tester (D., Mont.).
The North American Aerospace Defense Command, a joint US-Canada entity known as Norad, is currently undergoing a campaign to modernize its radar capabilities. Pentagon officials did not, however, specify any new projects.
When contacted for response, the Chinese Embassy in Washington cited remarks made earlier on Friday in Beijing by the Foreign Ministry. A ministry spokeswoman denied U.S. claims that Beijing is running a network of spy balloons and again blasted the U.S. for overreacting to a civilian airship that had deviated from its intended path.
According to an official transcript, ministry spokesperson Mao Ning told reporters in Beijing, “I am not aware of any ‘fleet of balloons’.” That narrative is most likely a component of the information and public opinion campaign the United States has launched against China.
According to the administration, at least four previous intrusions over the continental United States, including three under the Trump administration, were known to it. Those flights were substantially shorter in length, and Norad missed them when they took place. According to officials, U.S. intelligence later came to the conclusion that the flights had indeed occurred and informed Norad of this.
U.S. authorities anticipate that the FBI’s forensic study of the wreckage will reveal more information about the balloon’s capabilities. Senior FBI officials informed reporters on Thursday that just the balloon canopy, some wiring, and a tiny amount of electronics have been examined so far by FBI personnel.
According to one of the sources, the agency is still waiting to process the bulk of the equipment that was draped beneath the balloon and likely included the majority of the electronics. The materials are being processed and removed from the saltwater at the FBI’s lab in Quantico, Virginia, according to the officials.
An official said that the craft was equipped with tiny explosives that might have been detonated to disable the monitoring apparatus.
According to the State Department representative, the United States was looking into potential legal action against the government-affiliated organizations participating in China’s balloon and wider monitoring activities. According to two American officials, the Biden administration is seeking to have the Commerce Department add approximately six Chinese government-backed businesses with ties to the balloon program to its list of entities, which places restrictions on doing business with the blacklisted corporations.
The officials stated that it wasn’t immediately apparent when that action would take place. The State Department source did note that the goal of any punitive actions would be to expose and rectify China’s wider monitoring practices.
According to the senior official, the producer of the balloon is a “authorized vendor” of the People’s Liberation Army and has close ties to the Chinese military, as shown by information posted on a PLA procurement portal.
The company also promotes balloon products on its website and keeps videos of previous flights, which look to have at least crossed international airspace, according to the official. “These promoted balloon films appear to show flying patterns that are comparable to the balloons we have been talking about this week.”