Troubling Report: Chinese Spy Balloon Successfully Gathered Key Military Intel as It Flew Over US
Despite public assurances from the Biden administration to the contrary, the Chinese spy balloon shot down in February did, in fact, accomplish at least some of the mission on which it had apparently been dispatched.
The balloon was successful in gathering intelligence information from “several sensitive American military sites,” NBC News reported Monday.
Citing two current and one former senior U.S. officials, NBC said the Biden administration’s efforts to keep the balloon from compromising U.S. sites had failed, at least in part.
In February, Gen. Glen VanHerck, commander of U.S. Northern Command, told The Associated Press that “the U.S. ‘took maximum precautions’ to prevent the balloon from collecting information as it crossed the nation.”
Nevertheless, the balloon made “multiple passes over some of the sites (at times flying figure eight formations),” NBC reported.
That information was then uploaded to China in real time, the three officials told NBC.
They said the information China received would have consisted of mostly electronic intelligence, or ELINT, transmitted by military personal or by U.S. weapons themselves.
The administration was able, at least in some cases, to move suspected targets out from under the balloon’s course and to shut down some systems “by stopping them from broadcasting or emitting signals.”
In February, the President Joe Biden’s Department of Defense claimed that balloon would gather very little information “over and above what [China] is likely able to collect through things like satellites in low earth orbit.”
If that is true, it gives rise to the question of why China would go to the expense of creating and launching the balloon in the first place.
After entering U.S. airspace on Jan. 28, the balloon flew over Malmstrom Air Force Base, one of three Air Force bases at which the U.S. stores Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles.
On Feb. 2, after NBC broke the story about the presence of the balloon, the administration admitted it had been “monitoring the balloon for days.”
Two days later, the Biden administration finally shot the balloon down over the Atlantic after it had completed its course over the U.S.
China has consistently claimed the balloon was an “unmanned civilian airship that accidentally strayed off course,” NBC reported, and that shooting it down was an overreaction by the U.S.
If that is true, it gives rise to the question of why China didn’t inform U.S. officials of the straying airship when, or even before, it first entered U.S. airspace.
U.S. officials claimed in February that they had waited to shoot the balloon down until it was over the Atlantic in hopes of limiting potential collateral damage on the ground.
“After careful analysis, U.S. military commanders had determined downing the balloon while over land posed an undue risk to people across a wide area due to the size and altitude of the balloon and its surveillance payload,” Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said in a statement after the balloon had been shot down.
“Today’s deliberate and lawful action demonstrates that President Biden and his national security team will always put the safety and security of the American people first while responding effectively to the PRC’s unacceptable violation of our sovereignty,” he wrote just after the balloon had successfully traversed the continental U.S.
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