US Officials Track Chinese Spy Balloon, White House Rules Out Extraterrestrial Origins
U.S. officials confirmed on Tuesday that they had been tracking a Chinese spy balloon since it lifted off from the south coast of China last week. The balloon’s path suggested that it was meant to fly over Guam, but the strong winds pushed it northeast to Canada, then southward across the United States. U.S. intelligence agencies were able to detect the balloon prior to it entering U.S. airspace and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken's trip to Beijing was cancelled due to the balloon’s incursion.
On Monday, Chinese officials acknowledged that the balloon was theirs but denied it was intended for spying or meant to enter U.S. airspace. However, U.S. officials have stated that it contained “multiple antennas” that were “likely capable of collecting and geo-locating communications”, suggesting the balloon was for intelligence gathering.
China’s spy balloon technology has been evolving in recent years. These balloons are typically advanced balloons equipped with high-tech, downward-pointing imaging gear and can fly as high as 60 miles up, allowing them to evade more traditional radars. Balloons may be at the mercy of the elements, but they can be outfitted with a certain steering device to regulate their trajectory.
The Pentagon has been studying what can be done with balloons that couldn’t be done in the past, such as making them bigger or higher in the atmosphere to make them more difficult to shoot down or disable. The balloons can also be made more persistent.
When the balloon was shot down over the Atlantic, some materials floated while the payload, which carries critical information about the airship, sank to the “ocean bottom”, FBI officials told reporters last week. Parts of the balloon have been recovered by crews.
The White House has ruled out extraterrestrial origins for the objects and said there isn’t evidence they are of Chinese origin, suggesting the three objects were likely for “some commercial or benign purpose”. John Kirby, White House spokesperson, said a “leading explanation” in the US intelligence community is that the objects were “balloons that were simply tied to commercial or research entities and therefore benign”.
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