According to officials, the Chinese spy balloon that traveled across the U.S. gathered intelligence from several highly sensitive American military sites.
According to a report by NBC news, China was able to steer the surveillance balloon to take multiple passes over some sites and send back information it gathered back to Beijing in real-time.
According to claims by the White House that the spy balloon had limited capabilities, two senior U.S. officials and one former senior official with the administration confirmed to NBC that it was much more sophisticated.
The balloon was first spotted over the United States on January 28 before it was finally shot down off the South Carolina coast on February 4 after floating its way across several states and over sensitive military sites, where it performed several figure-eights, according to sources.
Monday, President Joe Biden’s administration said it could not confirm reports that China collected real-time data from the spy balloon.
“I could not confirm that there was real-time transmission from the balloon back to (China) at this time,” said Sabrina Singh, Pentagon spokesperson, adding, “that’s something we’re analyzing right now.”
The spy balloon incident saw tensions between China and the United States boil over, with Beijing claiming the crewless civilian airship accidentally strayed off course and Washington overreacted by shooting it down.
Officials say balloon flew figure-eights over sites to gather more information
According to the three officials, the balloon would fly in a figure-eight pattern above sites, collecting mostly electronic signals, which includes communications from base personnel, not just images.
The officials said China could have gathered more intelligence from sensitive sites but that the administration moved potential targets around and obscured the balloon’s ability to pick up electronic signals by stopping them from emitting or broadcasting signals.
The balloon had a self-destruct mechanism that China could have activated remotely; however, the officials said it’s unclear if China decided not to trigger it or if the mechanism malfunctioned.
U.S. crews were able to recover significant amounts of debris from where the balloon ended up after being shot down, including “all of the priority sensor and electronics pieces identified as well as large sections of the structure.”
According to NBC, officials are trying to reconstruct the balloon from the debris that has been recovered.
The U.S. government released a photo of the balloon from the cockpit of a U.S. spy plane before it was shot down.
The downing of the spy balloon was followed by the shooting down of three unidentified objects over North American airspace.