The Chinese spy balloon shot down Saturday had carried devices to intercept sensitive communications, the State Department said Thursday, offering the first proof that the balloon was on an espionage mission.
The Pentagon flew high-altitude U-2 spy planes to examine the gear dangling from the 200-foot balloon and found that it had the ability to conduct “signals intelligence collection operations,” a State Department spokesperson said in a statement.
The spy balloon’s incursion into the United States caused a diplomatic rupture with China, prompting Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s decision to cancel a trip to Beijing. On Capitol Hill, members of Congress expressed outrage at the incident and demanded answers from the Biden administration.
On Thursday, members of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee were scheduled to hear a classified briefing by State and Defense Department officials. The Pentagon waited until the balloon passed over land to shoot it down off the coast of South Carolina Saturday, seeking to avoid deaths and property damage.
In doing so, the military allowed the balloon to pass over and spy on the most sensitive strategic sites in the continental United States – nuclear missile silos and military bases.
The balloon’s spyware payload, the size of a regional jetliner, had “multiple antennas to include an array likely capable of collecting and geo-locating communications,” according to the spokesperson’s statement. He was not authorized to speak publicly. Pentagon officials have said that the balloon’s predictable path allowed them to shield sensitive sites from such collection devices.
The balloon had solar panels large enough to power “multiple active intelligence collection sensors,” according to the statement. The Chinese government operates a fleet of such spy balloons, whose activities are directed by the Chinese Army. There have been at least five spy balloon incursions into U.S. territory, according to the Pentagon and State Department. (SOURCE)