Many American intelligence officials familiar with the situation believe the recently discovered Chinese spy balloon is part of a vast monitoring operation run by the Chinese military.
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Officials claim that a portion of the surveillance program, which includes a number of similar spy balloons, is managed in the tiny Chinese province of Hainan. The number of Chinese surveillance balloons in the air is unknown in the United States, but CNN reports that the program has lately conducted at least two dozen missions spanning at least five continents.
According to a senior official familiar with the intelligence, almost half of those flights flew over US land while remaining within US airspace.
Additionally, according to that official and another person familiar with the intelligence, not all of the balloons seen throughout the world have been precisely the same model as the one that was shot out of the sky off the coast of South Carolina on Saturday. They claimed that there are actually numerous varieties.
US Attempts to Gather Intel from The Recovered Spy Balloon
According to experts, the wreckage of the balloon might provide the US with valuable information on Chinese aerial surveillance equipment and tactics, allowing the US to better understand the capabilities of the balloon, how it relayed data, and whether it has any flaws that the US may exploit.
An elite team of FBI engineers is poring over the wreckage of the retrieved spy balloon at a government lab in Quantico, Virginia. According to various authorities, it is uncertain how much information the intelligence agencies will be able to gather about the data the balloon really collected or attempted to collect at this time.
It will most likely be determined by how extensively the balloon’s substructure was damaged during the original shoot-down and subsequent 60,000-foot fall into the ocean.
Perhaps most crucially, the investigators will examine the digital signals the spy balloon emitted to see whether they can be used to better understand how the United States tracks balloons of this type in the future.
General Glen VanHerck, the commander of US Northern Command, told reporters on Monday that the US previously had a domain awareness gap, which allowed balloons to enter US airspace undetected.
According to a source familiar with the FBI investigation, the analysis and reconstruction of the balloon’s payload should reveal whether the airship was capable of transmitting the data it gathered to the Chinese military in real time or whether it contained stored data that China would later analyze after the device was recovered.
The need to shield US workers from potentially dangerous elements like explosives or battery components has slowed efforts to salvage the balloon’s equipment.
The strange object was first detected by US defence forces on Thursday, and they had to wait until it was safely over the ocean before shooting it down. Following a little explosion, the balloon was shown plummeting into the water on US television networks.
Chinese Officials on The Alleged Spy Balloon:
According to officials, the biggest unresolved question remains China’s purpose. China maintains that the object was a weather balloon that went off track and crossed over the US by accident.
A Chinese spokesperson stated that the alleged spy balloon is a civilian airship used for research purposes, mostly meteorological research. The airship deviated from its intended direction due to the westerlies and its limited ability to direct itself.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman issued a statement condemning the airship’s unintended intrusion into US airspace due to “force majeure.” According to the statement, the Chinese side would maintain contact with the US side and address this unexpected condition caused by force majeure effectively.
US officials acknowledged that this specific balloon type had little steering ability and generally followed the jet stream. However, a number of defense officials and other sources told The Washington Post that the Chinese explanation is not credible and that the balloon’s trajectory was planned.
According to a senior State Department official, although the US has acknowledged China’s regret, the balloon’s presence in US airspace clearly violated both domestic and international law, which was unacceptable.
After the US military shot down the suspected spy balloon, Beijing’s tone shifted dramatically. The Foreign Ministry accused the US of acting aggressively and gravely violating international rules. Meanwhile, the Defense Ministry issued a strong protest warning, saying that China has the right to take whatever steps are necessary to resolve such situations.
On Friday, the Pentagon said that a second Chinese surveillance balloon had been spotted over Latin America, with sightings confirmed over Venezuela and Costa Rica.
According to Colombia’s Air Force, a balloon-like object was found in the country’s airspace on February 3 at a height of more than 55,000 feet. It goes on to say that it posed no threat to national security and that it tracked the item until it left the airspace.