Biden administration intelligence officials observed the suspected Chinese spy balloon that was shot down off the coast of South Carolina ever since it took off, according to multiple reports.
U.S. monitors watched as the aircraft took off from Hainan Island near China’s south coast in late January nearly a week before it entered U.S. airspace, The New York Times reported, earlier than previously known. Follow-up reports by The Washington Post and CBS News indicate U.S. intelligence tracked the balloon moving east toward Guam, but it suddenly veered north toward Alaska’s Aleutian Islands.
BREAKING: CBS News has learned that U.S. intelligence watched the Chinese spy balloon as it lifted off near China's south coast, meaning the U.S. military had been tracking it for nearly a week before it entered U.S. airspace. pic.twitter.com/oaR5yZIRwm
— CBS Evening News (@CBSEveningNews) February 15, 2023
The balloon later crossed over the contiguous United States from Canada. The U.S. government first acknowledged the suspected reconnaissance balloon on February 2 as it was spotted over Billings, Montana, after which Secretary of State Antony Blinken postponed a planned trip to China in protest.
The U.S. military did not shoot the balloon down until it reached the Atlantic Ocean on February 4, as officials warned that downing the aircraft over land would lead to falling debris endangering people below.
While the U.S. assesses the object was a Chinese spy balloon, China claims it was a civilian research craft that was blown off course. Both countries have since accused each other of engaging in a widespread balloon spy-craft.
A senior State Department official said the Chinese balloon, which flew past U.S. military sites, was equipped with “multiple antennas” capable of collecting signals intelligence, according to NBC News.
In the salvage operation that followed, U.S. Northern Command said crews recovered “significant debris” from the site where the Chinese balloon fell, “including all of the priority sensor and electronics pieces identified as well as large sections of the structure.”
The situation took a strange turn over the weekend when officials say U.S. jets shot three unidentified flying objects (UFOs) out of the sky over North America: one over Alaska on Friday, another over Canada on Saturday, and a third over Lake Huron on Sunday.
What these flying objects were remains unclear, though the Biden administration has conveyed that the UFOs are not believed to be from outer space. Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) shared some insights Congress received from military officials.
“The UAPs [unidentified aerial phenomenons] were in FAA commercial zones and had no signals or navigation lights,” Crenshaw tweeted. “The first two UAPs were smaller, the size of an ATV, and harder to detect. The third resembled a balloon, and was easier for the radar to pick up. All moved with wind currents.”
The UAPs were in FAA commercial zones and had no signals or navigation lights.
The first two UAPs were smaller, the size of an ATV, and harder to detect. The third resembled a balloon, and was easier for the radar to pick up.
All moved with wind currents.
— Dan Crenshaw (@DanCrenshawTX) February 14, 2023
Defense Department officials say North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) has tweaked its radar to pick up smaller objects, which may provide a reason for the sudden uptick in flying object detections. “Plus, there’s a heightened alert to look for this information,” NORAD Commander General Glen VanHerck said on Sunday.
Salvage operations for the three UFOs are underway. Some officials have cast doubt on whether they will be able to find anything considering factors such as rough terrain and winter weather.
White House national security spokesman John Kirby said on Tuesday that a “leading explanation” offered by the U.S. intelligence community is that the three downed UFOs “were simply tied to commercial or research entities and therefore benign.” He added that the U.S. intelligence community doubts they are part of a spying operation.
Also on Tuesday, Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, revealed a missile fired by a U.S. fighter jet missed the UFO over Lake Huron and that missile landed “harmlessly” in the lake. A second missile from an F-16 brought down the flying object.