The Chinese spy balloon that traversed the United States earlier this year gathered and reported intelligence from multiple sensitive American military sites despite the Pentagon’s claims it blocked transmission, according to a new report from NBC News.
The report, which cites two current American officials and one former administration official, says the balloon was controlled by China, who maneuvered it to make several passes over certain military sites, sometimes in a figure-eight pattern – all while transmitting the gathered data back to Beijing in “real time.” The three officials say the data obtained by China was primarily electronic signals that could be collected from weapons systems or base communications.
When the National Security Council was pressed for comment from NBC, the news outlet was directed to remarks made in February by the Department of Defense, where officials claimed the balloon had “limited additive value” to the Chinese “over and above what [China] is likely able to collect through things like satellites in low earth orbit.”
Pentagon officials told lawmakers in February that little new intelligence was gathered in the Chinese balloon operation because of U.S. measures to protect sensitive intelligence, according to CNN.
While the balloon was able to traverse the country for a week in late January and early February before being shot down, the officials cited said the communist nation could have gathered even more intelligence if the Biden administration hadn’t taken actions to move potential targets around to disrupt intelligence gathering.
The State Department previously acknowledged the spy balloon had intelligence-gathering capabilities. The balloon flew over Montana, the home of a nuclear missile silo field at Malmstrom Air Force Base. It took a flight path that could have allowed it to collect intelligence at several other sensitive military sites. China claimed it was a civilian airship.
The spy balloon was shot down over the Atlantic Ocean on February 4 when the U.S. military used an F-22 Raptor to down the object with 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), said that the balloon was up to 200 feet tall and weighed “in excess of a couple thousand pounds.”
After the balloon was shot down, the U.S. subsequently downed three more unidentified objects over Alaska, Lake Huron, and Canada.
Ryan Saavedra contributed to this report.