Chinese spy balloon was able to send information back to Beijing

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A Chinese spy balloon that flew over the US earlier this year was able to capture imagery from US military sites and gather some signals intelligence, a source familiar with the matter told CNN.

The balloon was able to send information back to Beijing in real time, the source said, and the U.S. government still doesn’t know for sure whether the Chinese government could erase the balloon’s data. This raises the question of whether the balloon was capable of gathering any intelligence that the US is not yet aware of.

Still, the intelligence community is not overly concerned about the information the balloon was able to gather, the person said, because it is no more sophisticated than Chinese satellites that are capable of orbiting in similar locations.

A US intelligence official told CNN on Monday that “although analysis of the High Altitude Balloon’s debris continues, so far, its flight over the United States has not provided significant new insights to the People’s Republic of China.”

Officials have said that the US also knew what the balloon’s path would be and was able to protect sensitive sites and censor some signals before capturing the balloon.

As CNN reported, the US intelligence community last year developed a method of tracking these Chinese balloon fleets operating around the world controlled by the Chinese military.

The FBI is still investigating the balloon, but so far officials have been able to obtain additional information about how the device works, including the algorithms used for the balloon’s software and how it operated and was designed. Has gone.

CNN has contacted the National Security Council and the Pentagon at the White House for comment. nbc was report first On new intelligence.

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The balloon first entered US airspace over Alaska in late January, then crossed over Canada to Montana, where it hovered for a few days, leading the US to believe it could strike sensitive military targets such as Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana. Was trying to monitor the sites. , It was eventually shot down by the US near the east coast on February 4 and the incident further escalated tensions between Washington and Beijing, including postponing US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s diplomatic visit to China.

A senior State Department official said in February that, as the balloon floated across the US, it was “capable of conducting signals intelligence collection operations.”

Gen. Glenn VanHerck, commander of U.S. Northern Command and NORAD, said at the time that the U.S. “did not assess” that the balloon “presents a significant collection threat beyond what already exists in Chinese actionable technical means.”

The monitoring program, which involves several identical balloons, is being run partly from the small Chinese province of Hainan, officials told CNN. The US does not know the exact size of the Chinese surveillance balloon fleet, but sources told CNN the program has conducted at least two dozen missions across at least five continents in recent years.

About a half-dozen of those flights were within US airspace, though not necessarily over US territory, according to an official familiar with the intelligence.

China has said the balloon was actually just a weather balloon, and the US is assessing the possibility that it was not intentionally flown into the continental US by the Chinese government, CNN reports.

Still, officials believe China retains some ability to balloon. And once the balloon was over Montana, China took advantage of its position to hover over sensitive sites and try to gather intelligence.

This story has been updated with additional reporting.

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