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Pentagon Confirms Chinese Surveillance Balloon Shot Down By US Fighter Jets, Raising Tensions and Concerns

The Pentagon has confirmed that a Chinese surveillance balloon was shot down by American fighter jets after crossing into continental US airspace. The incident has sparked fresh tensions between the two countries and has raised concerns about the implications of China’s surveillance activities.[0]

Sources told CNN that the device was part of a fleet of Chinese surveillance balloons, which the US intelligence community started tracking within the last year.[1] US officials have detected suspected Chinese balloons over 40 countries across five continents, including Southeast Asia, South and Central America, and Europe.[2]

A senior State Department official said the US believes the balloon was part of a “PRC fleet of balloons developed to conduct surveillance operations” and that these activities are “often undertaken at the direction of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).”[3]

The House on Thursday passed a nonbinding resolution, 419-0, that condemned China for violating US sovereignty and called on the Biden administration to provide “comprehensive briefings” on the incident, including “an assessment of what surveillance data [the People’s Republic of China] was potentially able to collect or transmit via the balloon while it was over United States territory.”[4]

The official proposed the US is considering sanctions for the balloon's entrance into US airspace, which US officials have labeled a breach of US sovereignty and international law. Additionally, the US “will investigate taking action against Chinese entities associated with the People's Liberation Army that gave aid to the balloon's incursion into US airspace.”[5]

The spokesperson's statement revealed that the balloon's spyware payload was the size of a regional jetliner, and had several antennas, one of which was probably able to acquire and pinpoint communications.[6] He was not permitted to speak publicly.[7] Officials from the Pentagon stated that because the balloon had a known trajectory, they were able to protect key locations from being targeted by data gathering devices.[7]

Signals intelligence is the practice of gathering data from electronic sources, like radar or weaponry, for defense-related activities.[5] The U.S. has long utilized such operations.[4]

At the confidential meetings of Congress, the administration representatives argued that the US did not take action to shoot down the balloon sooner due to worries that it could lead to an intensification of military tensions with China or even a battle.[5]

0. “China accuses U.S. of flying spy balloons into Chinese airspace more than 10 times” NPR, 13 Feb. 2023, https://www.npr.org/2023/02/13/1156488174/china-us-spy-balloons-airspace

1. “U.S. Sent “Weather” Balloons to Spy on China in the 1950s” The Intercept, 7 Feb. 2023, https://theintercept.com/2023/02/07/china-balloon-soviet-union/

2. “China accuses US of ‘illegally' flying balloons across its airspace” CNN, 13 Feb. 2023, https://www.cnn.com/2023/02/13/china/china-unidentified-flying-object-intl-hnk-mic/index.html

3. “The US says Xi didn't know about the balloon. That raises even more questions” CNN, 10 Feb. 2023, https://www.cnn.com/2023/02/10/china/china-balloon-xi-jinping-unaware-intl-hnk/index.html

4. “Chinese balloon wasn't downed over Alaska due to ‘dangerous' recovery” Defense News, 9 Feb. 2023, https://www.defensenews.com/congress/2023/02/09/chinese-balloon-wasnt-downed-over-alaska-due-to-dangerous-recovery

5. “US officials disclosed new details about the Chinese spy balloon's capabilities: What we know” WLS-TV, 10 Feb. 2023, https://abc7chicago.com/chinese-balloon-spy-china-biden/12795945/

6. “What are ‘spy balloons’ and why are they used?” Al Jazeera English, 5 Feb. 2023, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/2/5/explainer-what-are-spy-balloons-and-why-are-they-used

7. “Chinese spy balloon sought secret US communications signals, State Department says” USA TODAY, 9 Feb. 2023, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2023/02/09/china-spy-balloon-sought-us-communications-state-department/11219163002/