Chinese spy balloon may have collected and sent sensitive US data in real time

According to various news sources, the Chinese spy balloon that flew over the U.S. earlier this year apparently would have collected data on U.S. military assets.
Christopher McFadden
The Chinese spy balloon did gather intelligence on U.S. assets, U.S. media claim.

Chase Doak/Wikimedia Commons 

Before being shot down, the Chinese balloon spotted in January and February this year over the U.S. could collect information from military bases for days, various media outlets reported.

U.S. sources told NBC News that the balloon could send data to Beijing in real time.

The balloon reportedly reached American airspace over Alaska on January 28th. The Biden administration claimed to have been monitoring its progress. The balloon passed over Montana in less than four days, notably over Malmstrom Air Force Base, where the United States keeps some nuclear weapons.

The network cited an official who claimed that the craft didn't take photos but instead picked up electronic signals. The White House has neither confirmed nor denied this. According to Reuters, "U.S. President Joe Biden's administration said on Monday it could not confirm reports that China [could] collect real-time data from a spy balloon as it flew over sensitive military sites earlier this year, saying analysis was still ongoing."

However, US officials said they could restrict the balloon's capacity for gathering information while flying over the nation but did not elaborate on how. A spokesperson for the defense department stated on Monday that the FBI was still looking over the balloon wreckage.

"We do know that the balloon was able to be maneuvered and purposely driven along its track," said spokesperson Sabrina Singh. She has also declined to say which military installations the balloon could hover over.

A US fighter aircraft shot down the balloon on February 4th

"We're still [assessing] what the intel was that China was able to gather, but we do know that the steps that we took provided little additive value to what they've been able to collect on from satellites before," she added.

Before it re-entered American airspace in February, the U.S. authorities claimed to have tracked the balloon over Alaska and Canada. Days of monitoring, sky-watching, and speculation began when it was publicly acknowledged that the balloon was flying over the US mainland. On February 4th, off the coast of South Carolina, a US fighter aircraft finally shot down the craft, which stood about 200 feet (60 meters) tall.

Later, American authorities claimed to have found the balloon. Chinese authorities claim that the U.S. overreacted by shooting it down and that it was a civilian weather balloon. According to officials quoted by US media, China was able to control the balloon so that it could fly numerous figure-eight loops and make multiple passes over military installations.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken canceled a trip to China due to the event, which started a diplomatic dispute. US fighter aircraft shot down several other balloons in the weeks that followed the first one, all of which they believed to have come from China, but this is yet to be officially confirmed.

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