US intelligence officials believe the Chinese balloon that was shot down over US territory on Saturday is part of an extensive, military-run surveillance program that has conducted missions across five continents in recent years. The Pentagon has revealed that the balloon is part of a larger network of surveillance balloons operated by the Chinese government.
The Washington Post reported that the US believes the suspected surveillance balloon project was being operated from China's coastal Hainan province and targeted countries including Japan, India, Vietnam, Taiwan and the Philippines. China's foreign ministry has accused the US of sending high-altitude balloons “illegally” into Chinese airspace more than 10 times since last year, prompting Secretary of State Antony Blinken to cancel a planned trip to China.
The US Navy on Tuesday released photos showing the recovery of the remnants of the Chinese spy balloon off the South Carolina coast. Ships from the Navy and Coast Guard, as well as divers, are still looking for fragments from the balloon. It is unclear what intelligence the US has so far gleaned from the remnants.
The US military shot down the balloon off the coast of South Carolina on Feb. 4, 2023. Chinese officials have denied the balloon was being used for spying purposes, and said it was a weather device blown astray. The US has dismissed that assertion.
Experts have said that the debris could help officials better understand what the balloon was capable of and how it transmitted information. It remains unclear what the balloon could have gleaned that the Chinese could not have uncovered with traditional satellite imagery, and what surveillance capabilities the balloon may have had.
The administration has been criticized by Republicans for waiting to bring down the balloon until it was flying over water, enabling it to traverse numerous states in the US. President Biden said he ordered the US military to shoot down the balloon “as soon as possible,” and his national security officials determined that “the best time to do that was when it got over water.”
Annually, balloons of unknown origin are witnessed in the Asia-Pacific area. Approximately every three months, Taipei detects suspected Chinese balloons flying over Taiwan's peripheral islands near the Chinese coast, according to an official with access to daily intelligence reports from the military in Taiwan.
It is possible to control a typical high-altitude balloon by following the balloon and what the winds are doing.
0. “Why China has both spy balloons and spy satellites” Axios, 14 Feb. 2023, https://www.axios.com/2023/02/14/china-spy-balloons-satellites-risks
1. “Chinese balloon part of worldwide fleet, US officials say” BBC, 8 Feb. 2023, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-64572324
2. “House briefing on China spy balloon turns tense with Greene comments: ‘I chewed them out’” The Hill, 9 Feb. 2023, https://thehill.com/homenews/house/3851495-house-briefing-on-china-spy-balloon-turns-tense-with-greene-questions-i-chewed-them-out/
3. “Map: Here's how close the Chinese spy balloon flew to the U.S. nuclear arsenal” NBC News, 7 Feb. 2023, https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/national-security/map-close-chinese-spy-balloon-flew-us-nuclear-arsenal-rcna69376
4. “US officials disclosed new details about the balloon's capabilities. Here's what we know” CNN, 10 Feb. 2023, https://www.cnn.com/2023/02/09/politics/spy-balloon-technology/index.html
5. “U.S.'s Asia Allies See New Threat From Balloons Amid China Spying Row” The Wall Street Journal, 14 Feb. 2023, https://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-s-asia-allies-see-new-threat-from-balloons-amid-china-spying-row-73a4b214
6. “Chinese spy balloon over the US: An aerospace expert explains how the balloons work and what they can see” The Conversation, 4 Feb. 2023, https://theconversation.com/chinese-spy-balloon-over-the-us-an-aerospace-expert-explains-how-the-balloons-work-and-what-they-can-see-199245