They say China's balloon could pick up intelligence signals

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the china globe shot down by the United States It was equipped to detect and collect intelligence signals as part of a massive military-linked aerial surveillance program targeting more than 40 countries, the Biden administration declared on Thursday, citing US footage. U-2 spy planes.

A fleet of balloons operates under the direction of the People's Liberation Army and is used specifically for spying, equipped with high-tech equipment designed to collect sensitive information from targets around the world, the US said. Similar balloons have sailed around the five continents, according to the administration.

A statement from a senior State Department official offered the most detail to date linking China's military to the balloon the United States shot down over the Atlantic Ocean last weekend. The public details outlining the scope and capabilities of the program were meant to refute China's persistent denials that the balloon was used for spying, including a claim Thursday that the US allegations about the balloon amount to "war." of information".

At the Capitol, the House voted unanimously to condemn China for a "blatant violation" of US sovereignty and efforts to "mislead the international community through false claims about its intelligence-gathering campaigns." Republicans have criticized President Joe Biden for not acting sooner to bring down the balloon, but lawmakers from both parties agreed on the vote, 419-0.

In Beijing, before the US offered its new information, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning reiterated her nation's insistence that the large unmanned balloon was a civilian weather aircraft that had gone astray. off its course and that the US had “overreacted” by shooting it down.

"It is irresponsible," Mao said. The latest allegations, he said, "may be part of the US side's information war against China."

Underlining the tensions, China's defense minister on Saturday refused to take a phone call from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to discuss the balloon issue, the Pentagon said. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has canceled a planned weekend trip to Beijing.

The United States flatly contradicted the Chinese version of events, saying images of the balloon collected by US U-2 spy planes as it crossed the country showed it was "capable of conducting signals intelligence gathering" with multiple antennas and other equipment. designed to load sensitive data. information and solar panels to power them.

Jedidiah Royal, the US assistant secretary of defense for the Indo-Pacific, told a Senate Appropriations subcommittee that the military has "some very good guesses" about what intelligence China was seeking. More information was expected to be provided in a classified environment.

Senior FBI officials who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity under ground rules set forth by the bureau said only a few pieces of the balloon had made it to the FBI laboratory in Quantico, Virginia, for investigation. So far, the researchers have parts of the balloon's canopy, wiring, and what one official called "a very small number of electronics." The official said it was "too early to assess what the intent was and how the device worked."

According to two US officials, balloon recovery efforts were temporarily put on hold Thursday due to high seas. They said some balloon remains were intact on the ocean floor and divers had recovered potentially high-value equipment over the past day and a half.

Much of the debris is concentrated in two separate sections of an area 15 football fields long and 15 fields wide, according to the officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the collection process.

The State Department official, who provided details to reporters by email, also on condition of anonymity, said an analysis of the balloon debris was "inconsistent" with China's explanation that it was a weather balloon that he went off course. The United States is reaching out to countries that have also been attacked, the official said, to discuss the extent of the Chinese surveillance program, and is investigating possible actions that "supported the balloon's incursion into United States airspace."

The official said the United States is confident that the manufacturer of the balloon shot down on Saturday has "a direct relationship with China's military and is an approved supplier to" the military. The official cited information from an official PLA procurement portal as evidence of the connection between the company and the military.

State Department spokesman Ned Price did not name the other countries the United States says have also been attacked. He also did not reveal how the United States knows there have been Chinese incursions into those countries' territory, saying doing so could compromise intelligence sources and methods.

The release of new information appeared to be part of a coordinated response by the administration, with multiple officials appearing before congressional committees to confront questions about the balloon.

Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Assistant Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said officials had taken "every step necessary to protect confidential information" and had been able to study and scrutinize the balloon and its equipment.

“We will continue to respond to the dangers posed by the PRC with determination and determination,” Sherman said, referring to the PRC. "We will make it clear to the PRC that violations of our sovereignty and the sovereignty of other countries are unacceptable."

In a separate Senate subcommittee hearing, lawmakers repeatedly pressed administration officials, including Pentagon military leaders, about why the balloon was not shot down over sparsely populated areas of Alaska. And they questioned whether allowing the balloon to transit over such a large area set a precedent for future spying efforts by China and others.

"It challenges the belief that there was not a single opportunity to safely fire this spy balloon before the coast of South Carolina," said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine. "Under the administration's logic, we would allow the Chinese to fly surveillance balloons over the Pentagon or other sensitive sites and populated areas."

Melissa Dalton, deputy secretary of defense for Homeland Defense, and Lt. Gen. Doug Sims, director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the United States wanted to avoid injuries or deaths from the debris field if the balloon was shot down over Alaska. .

And they added that shooting it down over the frigid, icy waters of that region would have made it more difficult and dangerous to recover the pieces for further analysis.

“We think before we shoot,” Sims said. This is not the first time that the US government has publicly denounced the alleged activities of the People's Liberation Army. In 2014, in the first prosecution of its kind, the Obama administration's Justice Department charged five PLA hackers with breaking into the computer networks of major US corporations in an effort to steal trade secrets.

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