US officials say the verdict is finally in after the government probe into the Chinese spy balloon shot down off the coast of South Carolina on Feb. 4. While Beijing has long insisted it was a benign unmanned civilian airship that accidentally strayed off course, during which time it was observed over sensitive American military installations, a Monday NBC report says it was able to obtain intelligence.
“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 NBC report begins.
One key question has been whether the balloon’s collection technology was capable of transmitting information back to the Chinese government in real time. There was much speculation at the time that the Chinese would have to physically recover the device in order to access whatever data it may have picked up.
But US officials now say that Beijing did receive information in real time. “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 report underscores.
“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.”
Another interesting aspect which US investigators say they’ve uncovered following much of the balloon debris’ retrieval from the ocean in the aftermath of the shootdown is that it had a self-destruct mechanism.
Officials say it “could have been activated remotely by China,” but also explained that “it’s not clear if that didn’t happen because the mechanism malfunctioned or because China decided not to trigger it.”
The sources which spoke to NBC attributed intelligence countermeasures deployed by the Biden administration as having successfully blocked the balloon’s ability to gather more intelligence than it did. In some cases this involved the Pentagon acting quickly to halt electronic signals and communications being admitted from sensitive sites. But it flew over US territory for a significant amount of time, having first entered airspace over Alaska on Jan.28.
Despite the report seeking to present President Biden’s response to the balloon saga as somewhat of a ‘success’, the key question which is still unanswered is how the balloon was able to linger over the US unhindered for that long and why there was no Pentagon intervention earlier – especially if it was suspected of being under operation by a foreign adversary with nefarious intent.
Biden previously downplaying the balloon…
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