US officials have revealed new details about the recent downing of a Chinese spy balloon off the coast of South Carolina. The incident, which occurred on Feb. 4, has further strained relations between the two countries and triggered a Congressional investigation.
The Chinese government has maintained that the balloon was a wayward weather balloon, however, a senior U.S. defense official said Saturday that its equipment was “clearly for intelligence surveillance.” The official also said the balloon's route over the United States “contradicts the PRC government's explanation that it was a weather balloon.”
The Biden Administration alleged Thursday that China had conducted high-altitude surveillance missions in more than 40 countries across five continents. The State Department official stated that they are aware that these balloons form part of a fleet developed by the People's Republic of China for surveillance operations.
Subsequently, the House unanimously passed a resolution condemning China’s use of the surveillance balloon over the United States, calling it a “brazen violation” of U.S. sovereignty.
The Biden Administration has also faced criticism from lawmakers about the decision to hold off downing the suspected surveillance balloon. Emphasis has been placed by defense officials on avoiding any danger to civilians from debris falling from the sky.
On Thursday, representatives from the Pentagon, state department, and US intelligence gave a confidential briefing to members of Congress. CNN reported that it was evaluated that minimal new intelligence was acquired from the balloon operation, as the Chinese seemed to discontinue transmitting data when the US identified its existence, and that steps were taken to obstruct the balloon's gathering abilities.
Signals intelligence is data that is collected through electronic methods, such as communications and radar. It involves the harvesting of information from electronic systems, such as radar or weapons, for defense purposes. Such operations have long been in the US playbook.
The US is now exploring taking action against PRC entities linked to the PLA that supported the balloon’s incursion into US airspace. The US is also looking at continuing efforts to expose and address the PRC’s larger surveillance activities that pose a threat to its national security, as well as its allies and partners.
As tensions between the two nations continue to rise, the US is closely monitoring the situation to ensure the safety of its citizens and its allies.
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1. “Gallery: New photos released of effort to recover Chinese spy balloon” Military Times, 10 Feb. 2023, https://www.militarytimes.com/news/your-military/2023/02/10/gallery-new-photos-released-of-effort-to-recover-chinese-spy-balloon
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