Weeks ago, our nation was suddenly thrust into the sort of international drama that we hadn’t experience in several decades, as a Chinese spy balloon was spotted over sensitive US military sites in Montana.
Instead of immediately downing the dangerous device, the Biden administration instead chose to allow the balloon to fly over the entire contiguous US, only confronting and disabling this piece of espionage hardware over the Atlantic Ocean, just off the coast of South Carolina – a decision that many feared had allowed Beijing unfettered access to American military secrets.
This week, those fears rang truer than ever.
The Chinese spy balloon that flew across the U.S. was able to gather intelligence from several sensitive American military sites, despite the Biden administration’s efforts to block it from doing so, according to two current senior U.S. officials and one former senior administration official.
The balloon wasn’t simply surfing the wind either.
China was able to control the balloon so it could make multiple passes over some of the sites (at times flying figure-eight formations) and transmit the information it collected back to Beijing in real time, the three officials said. The intelligence China collected was mostly from electronic signals, which can be picked up from weapons systems or include communications from base personnel, rather than images, the officials said.
The three officials said China could have gathered much more intelligence from sensitive sites if not for the administration’s efforts to move around potential targets and obscure the balloon’s ability to pick up their electronic signals by stopping them from broadcasting or emitting signals.
China had made the rather flimsy claim that the balloon was a civilian airship, but the presence of a “self-destruct” mechanism on board appeared to refute that suggestion.