We’re learning new information about the suspected Chinese surveillance balloon that was shot down off the coast of South Carolina on Saturday. A State Department spokesperson said the balloon was able to collect communications and data via a satellite and had “multiple antennas” in addition to other equipment used “clearly for intelligence surveillance,” Axios reported.
“We know the PRC (People’s Republic of China) used these balloons for surveillance,” the official said, adding, “High-resolution imagery from U-2 flybys revealed that the high-altitude balloon was capable of conducting signals intelligence collection operations.”
The alleged surveillance balloon was recovered from the sea after being shot down and is now at an FBI lab in Quantico, Virginia where authorities are analysing the wreckage to determine what information China had received before it was destroyed. An official told CNN that the FBI had only received debris recovered from the ocean’s surface and included the “canopy itself, the wiring, and then a very small amount of electronics.” Large solar panels were also found on the balloon which government officials say could power “active intelligence collection sensors.”
First starting in Alaska and Canada, the balloon made its way to Montana across the U.S., in a flight pattern that authorities say brought them directly over a nuclear missile site that hosts the U.S. Strategic Command and a military base that holds the B-2 stealth bomber.
“If you ask somebody to draw an X at every place where our sensitive missile defence sites, our nuclear weapons infrastructure, our nuclear weapon sites are, you would put them all along this path,” Rep. Mike Turner, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said on NBC News’ Meet the Press.
Chinese authorities initially claimed the balloon was used for weather research and had blown off course, but the FBI’s findings enhanced the strains between U.S. and China relations. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was scheduled to travel to China last week for a high-stakes meeting but cancelled after the spy balloon made headway across the U.S.
Authorities were told that the balloon was deployed without Chinese President Xi Jinping’s knowledge, sources familiar with the matter told CNN, but it remains unclear what China hoped to achieve.
A State Department official told the outlet that China “has overflown these surveillance balloons over more than 40 countries across five continents,” adding, “the Biden Administration is reaching out to countries directly about the scope of this program and answer any questions.”
Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman spoke at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Thursday, saying this sets a precedent for China, and shows they are not committed to having peaceful relations.
“This irresponsible act put on full display what we’ve long recognised,” Sherman said. “That the PRC has become more repressive at home and more aggressive abroad.”
Editor’s Note: Release dates within this article are based in the U.S., but will be updated with local Australian dates as soon as we know more.