The Chinese Spy Balloon Appears Designed to Listen to Americans’ Communications
BY W.J. HENNIGAN
09 FEBRUARY 2023
The alleged Chinese spy balloon that U.S. fighter jets shot down Saturday was likely capable of listening in on Americans’ communications and pinpointing the location of those conversing on the ground, according to the U.S. State Department.
As the massive white balloon traversed the continental U.S. last week, drifting over several sensitive military sites along the way, it carried equipment that was designed to intercept sensitive communications, said a State Department official, who provided a statement on the condition anonymity to discuss the information.
“It had multiple antennas to include an array likely capable of collecting and geolocating communications,” the official said. “It was equipped with solar panels large enough to produce the requisite power to operate multiple active intelligence collection sensors.”
China conducted high-altitude surveillance missions in “more than 40 countries across five continents,” the Biden Administration alleged Thursday in a new disclosure that shed light on the size and scope of suspected espionage effort that was carried out over several years. “We know these balloons are all part of a (People’s Republic of China) fleet of balloons developed to conduct surveillance operations,” the State Department official said.
Although the Chinese government maintains the aircraft was merely a wayward weather balloon, the U.S. official said the balloon’s equipment “was clearly for intelligence surveillance,” which was aimed at conducting “signals intelligence collection operations.”
The new information was collected by high-flying U-2 spy planes that captured detailed imagery of the balloon floating at around 60,000 ft. before the U.S. military shot it out of the sky, while sensors on the planes collected electronic data that emanated from the payload slung underneath the balloon. As a result, the government was able to determine some of the balloon’s capabilities and forensically piece together a picture of past flights over the U.S. and other countries that previously went undetected.
Armed with fresh intelligence gleaned through observing the balloon’s multi-day trip over Canada and the U.S., the Pentagon now assesses that China sent balloons over the continental U.S. at least four times over the past six years during shorter missions that went undetected until one entered American airspace last week.