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We Now Have an Update on What Intelligence the Chinese Spy Balloon Gathered

Department of Defense via AP

Earlier this year, Americans were shocked to see not only a Chinese spy balloon traverse the entire country, but also the Biden administration allowing it to happen in the first place. In total, Beijing was able to drift its obvious surveillance balloon for seven days before U.S. officials shot it down off the east coast.

In typical fashion, China insisted it was a weather balloon that drifted off course—which is laughable based on the flight pattern alone, hovering over or near U.S. military bases in Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska and Missouri. 

Now, according to an NBC News report, the balloon was able to gather intelligence from these military sites and send the information immediately back to Beijing. While the Biden administration's efforts did block some data collection, it wasn't able to prevent it all. 

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, the three officials said. 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 said.

The three officials said China could have gathered much more intelligence from sensitive sites if not for the 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 or emitting signals.

The National Security Council referred NBC News to the Defense Department for comment. The Defense Department directed NBC News to comments from February in which senior officials said the balloon had “limited additive value” for intelligence collection by the Chinese government “over and above what [China] is likely able to collect through things like satellites in low earth orbit.” (CNBC)

The Chinese spy balloon was one among a fleet of them Beijing has been operating around the world for several years.

“We’re not alone in this,” said Secretary of State Antony Blinken. “We’ve already shared information with dozens of countries around the world both from Washington and through our embassies. We’re doing so because the United States was not the only target of this broader programme which has violated the sovereignty of countries across five continents.”

 

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