During a week-long flight above the United States and Canada in early February, President Joseph Biden ordered the U.S. military to shoot down a Chinese balloon they believed to be a government espionage craft.
NBC News reported on Monday that despite attempts by the Biden administration to stop it, a Chinese balloon that soared across the United States could collect information from various U.S. military facilities and broadcast it back to Beijing in real-time.
U.S. authorities downplayed the threat that the balloon posed to national security at the time, calling the surveillance gathering device benign. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s trip to Beijing was delayed due to the event, significantly straining ties between the two capitals.
Unnamed sources said that most of China’s intelligence came from electronic signals, such as weapons systems or conversations between base employees.
According to NBC, two senior U.S. officials and a retired administration official confirmed that the Chinese high-altitude balloon made repeated flights over some of the locations before it was shot down on February 4. The three officials said the satellite could send the data it gathered directly to Beijing in real-time.
Asked by reporters on Monday, White House spokesman John Kirby said he could not corroborate NBC’s claim and that the United States has restricted the balloon’s ability to gather anything additional.
Kirby said that when the balloon was in U.S. airspace, our military obtained some “important background” from studying and analyzing it.
The incident sparked widespread panic in Washington, prompting the United States military to look for further unidentified flying objects.
On February 17th, the United States said that the recovery operation for the Chinese surveillance balloon wreckage off the coast of South Carolina was completed and that investigators would analyze the balloon’s “guts.”