Chinese spy balloon used off-the-shelf US tech

The Wall Street Journal has released an exclusive investigation revealing that the Chinese spy balloon used both US and Chinese technology.
Christopher McFadden
Image of the balloon taken from U-2 spy plane earlier this year.

Department of Defense/Wikimedia Commons 

According to an exclusive Wall Street Journal (WSJ) investigation, the Chinese spy balloon that traversed U.S. airspace in February had some US-made tech onboard.

This tech, the WSJ report, could have been used to collect photos, videos, and other pertinent information during its tour of the country. However, the WSJ also reports the balloon did not transmit any of its collected data back to China.

The spy balloon used some US tech

The findings come after the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and other agencies, analyzed the wreckage of the balloon recovered after it was finally shot down. As the WSJ reports, the investigation revealed that the balloon contained off-the-shelf American equipment, some available online, and specialized Chinese sensors and other tools designed to gather and transmit data. 

The recent US findings contradict China's claim that it was used for weather monitoring and not spying, which has raised tensions between the two nations. US officials have also indicated that the presence of both types of equipment suggests that the balloon was intended for surveillance rather than benign scientific observation.

Also according to US officials, the Chinese spy balloon was a sophisticated effort by Beijing to conduct surveillance using a combination of easily accessible and specialized equipment. China was also apparently able to maneuver the balloon over the same location in a figure-eight pattern.

As to why the balloon did not transmit data, it has been suggested that this could be due to malfunctions or US electronic warfare interdiction. Yet, despite raised tensions both the Biden administration and the Chinese leadership have expressed a willingness to move forward from the balloon incident.

In fact, President Biden deemed the incident as unintentional and more of an embarrassment for the Chinese leadership. Additionally, Secretary of State Antony Blinken has affirmed that as long as there are no repeat incidents, it's time to put this chapter behind the two superpowers.

However, Chinese leaders have warned that should US investigators' report on the balloon become public, Beijing will be forced into a strong reaction, potentially derailing high-level engagement. 

Apparently, it didn't transmit any data

"It's not a major breach. Look, the total amount of intelligence gathering that's going on by every country around the world is overwhelming," explained incumbent President Joe Biden on the 9th of February. "China has some legitimate difficulties unrelated to the United States. And I think one of the things that balloon caused was not so much that it got shot down, but I don't think the leadership knew where it was, what was in it, and what was going on," he added.

"I think it was more embarrassing than it was intentional," he concluded.

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