President Joe Biden’s administration said that China’s People’s Liberation Army is most likely responsible for the spy program targeting more than 40 countries on five continents using high-altitude balloons like the one seen floating above the continental U.S. since Jan. 31.
The State Department said it is part of a fleet of Chinese military balloons, The New York Times reported.
Update 2:28 p.m. EST Feb. 9: The FBI has confirmed that it is examining pieces of the balloon.
A senior bureau official told reporters that a few pieces of the balloon have arrived at the FBI’s lab at Quantico, Virginia, The Associated Press reported.
Investigators have looked at the balloon canopy, writing and “a very small amount of electronics.”
The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said it was “very early for us to assess what the intent was and how the device was operating.”
Recovery of the device was halted temporarily on Thursday because of high seas, but officials said some debris is still intact on the ocean floor with divers recovering some potentially high-value equipment this week, the AP reported.
The remnants are in two sections underwater in an area that is 15 football fields long and 15 football fields wide, the AP reported.
Original report: A senior State Department official said the system has the capability to capture sensitive intelligence. The information about the network was released to fire back against China’s claims that the balloons were not used for spying and that the U.S. accusing the communist country of doing so is “information warfare,” The Associated Press reported.
The official, whose name was not released, said that an American U-2 spy plane captured images of the balloon that showed that it was “capable of conducting signals intelligence collection.” The balloon was equipped with multiple antennas to capture sensitive information. It also had solar panels to power the system, the AP reported.
The government official said that the analysis of the wreckage after the U.S. shot it down over the weekend is “inconsistent” with claims from China that it was an off-course weather balloon, the AP reported.
The State Department in a written report said that the balloon “was clearly for intelligence surveillance and inconsistent with the equipment onboard weather balloons” and was “likely capable of collecting and geo-locating communications,” The New York Times reported.
The Defense Intelligence Agency had compiled an internal report, sent through classified channels in the government, on the balloon before it entered U.S. airspace as it floated toward Alaska. Government officials said it was part of a known aerial surveillance operation by the Chinese military that has conducted surveillance across the U.S. about a half dozen times, CNN reported.
The report was not flagged urgent and officials who saw it were not alarmed, saying it did not get forwarded on to the White House and President Joe Biden was not briefed on it at the time, CNN reported.
The U.S. instead used it to observe and collect intelligence on the device, until it took a sharp turn south to go over the continental U.S., potentially spying on the U.S. mainland, CNN reported.
The State Department may take action against China in response to the balloon.
“The United States will also explore taking action against P.R.C. (People’s Republic of China) entities linked to the P.L.A. (People’s Liberation Army) that supported the balloon’s incursion into U.S. airspace,” the State Department said, according to the Times. “We will also look at broader efforts to expose and address the P.R.C.’s larger surveillance activities that pose a threat to our national security, and to our allies and partners.”
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