The Chinese spy balloon that passed over the United States was able to gather intelligence from several US military sites and send it back to Beijing, it has emerged.
The high-altitude balloon was able to make multiple passes over some of the sites before it was shot down on February 4, at times flying in a figure-eight formation, NBC reported on Monday, citing two current senior US officials and one former senior administration official.
The three officials said it could transmit the information it collected back to Beijing in real time, NBC reported.
“The intelligence China collected was mostly from electronic signals, which can be picked up from weapons systems or include communications from base personnel, rather than images,” NBC cited the officials as saying.
At the time, US officials played down the balloon’s impact on national security.
The balloon, which Beijing denies was a government spy vessel, spent a week flying over the United States and Canada early in February before the US military shot it down off the Atlantic Coast on President Joe Biden’s orders.
The Chinese balloon incident prompted US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to postpone a planned visit to Beijing and further strained relations between Washington and Beijing.
The episode caused an uproar in Washington and led the US military to search the skies for other objects that were not being captured on radar.
The United States said on February 17 it had successfully concluded recovery efforts off South Carolina to collect sensors and other debris from the suspected Chinese surveillance balloon and that investigators would analyse its “guts.”
- Reuters with additional editing by Sean O’Meara