According to a new report from NBC News, a Chinese spy balloon that traveled across the United States earlier this year was able to gather and report intelligence from sensitive American military sites, despite the Pentagon’s claims that it blocked transmission.
The report cites two current American officials and one former administration official, who say that the balloon was controlled by China and maneuvered to make multiple passes over certain military sites, transmitting the gathered data back to Beijing in real-time.
Biden, February 16: “We were able to protect sensitive sites against collection."
NBC, today: “Chinese spy balloon that flew across the U.S. was able to gather intelligence from several sensitive American military sites” pic.twitter.com/VhDG7dFEcM
— RNC Research (@RNCResearch) April 3, 2023
The officials note that the data obtained by China was primarily electronic signals, which could include information from weapons systems or base communications.
The National Security Council referred NBC to comments made by the Department of Defense in February when asked for a response, where officials stated that the Chinese spy balloon had “limited additive value” for collecting intelligence that China is likely already able to obtain through methods such as low earth orbit satellites.
According to CNN, Pentagon officials informed lawmakers in February that the Chinese balloon operation gathered little new intelligence due to US measures in place to protect sensitive information.
According to the officials cited in the NBC report, the Chinese spy balloon was able to traverse the United States for a week in late January and early February, gathering and transmitting intelligence from multiple sensitive American military sites.
The officials also said that China could have obtained even more intelligence if the Biden administration had not taken measures to move potential targets around to disrupt intelligence gathering. The balloon was eventually shot down.
In a previous acknowledgment, the State Department confirmed that the Chinese spy balloon had the capability to gather intelligence. The balloon passed over Montana, which is home to a nuclear missile silo field at Malmstrom Air Force Base, and its flight path could have allowed it to gather intelligence from multiple other sensitive military sites.
The spy balloon was shot down by the U.S. military on February 4 over the Atlantic Ocean using an F-22 Raptor and a single air-to-air AIM-9X Sidewinder missile.
General Glen VanHerck, Commander of North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and United States Northern Command (USNORTHCOM) provided details about the spy balloon, stating that it was over 200 feet tall and weighed “in excess of a couple thousand pounds.” Following the successful downing of the balloon, the U.S. military went on to down three more unidentified objects over Alaska, Lake Huron, and Canada.