MATTHEW LEE AND ERIC TUCKER (Associated Press)
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Chinese balloon shot down by the United States was rigged to collect intelligence signals as part of a massive military-linked aerial spying program targeting more than 40 countries, the Biden administration said Thursday. and two US U-reconnaissance aircraft.
According to the United States, the balloon fleet operates under the command of the People’s Liberation Army and is equipped with high-tech equipment designed to gather sensitive information from targets around the world, and is used specifically for espionage. According to the administration, similar balloons are floating on five continents.
A statement from a senior State Department official provided the most detailed information linking Chinese forces to a balloon shot down by the United States over the Atlantic last weekend. Public details outlining the program’s scope and capabilities show China’s consistent denial that the balloons were used for espionage, including Thursday’s allegation that US accusations of the balloon amounted to an “information warfare” against Beijing. It is intended to refute what is being done.
On Capitol Hill, the House unanimously voted to condemn the balloon program as a “brazen violation” of US sovereignty. Republicans criticized President Joe Biden for not acting quickly to lower the balloon, but lawmakers from both parties voted 419-0.
In Beijing, before the US provided new information, China’s foreign ministry spokesman Mao Ning said the large unmanned balloon was a civilian weather airship that had been blown off course, and the US had shot it down. It reiterated the country’s claims that it had “overreacted”.
“Irresponsible,” said Mao. Her latest accusations “could be part of an information warfare on the part of the United States against China,” she said.
The Pentagon said China’s defense minister declined to take a call from Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on Saturday to discuss the balloon issue. China has not responded to questions about which government department or company the balloon belonged to or how it planned to follow up on promises to take further action on the issue.
The United States claims that images of balloons collected by U.S. U-2 reconnaissance planes as they cross the country are used for “signal intelligence collection” using multiple antennas and other equipment designed to upload classified information. It can be done,” he said, categorically opposing China. Panels that power them.
Jedidiah Royal, the US Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Affairs, told the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee that the military is making a “very good guess” about the information China is seeking. It was hoped that more information would be provided in a classified setting.
A senior State Department official, who provided details to reporters via email on condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the issue, had already been forced to cancel a planned visit to China by Secretary of State Anthony Brinken.
Officials said their analysis of the balloon debris “contradicted” China’s description that it was a weather balloon that veered off course. The US is reaching out to similarly targeted countries to discuss the scope of China’s surveillance program, investigating potential actions that “assisted balloon intrusion into US airspace” said the official.
Officials said the US believed the manufacturer of the balloon that was shot down on Saturday was “directly associated with the Chinese military and is an approved vendor of the military.” Officials cited information from the People’s Liberation Army’s official procurement portal as evidence of the company’s military ties.
The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday passed a resolution accusing China of “brazen violations of U.S. sovereignty” and of “trying to deceive the international community through false claims about intelligence-gathering campaigns.” The resolution has received support from both Democrats and Republicans, reflecting growing bipartisan anger in Washington over what lawmakers see as Chinese aggression.
The release of the new information appeared to be part of a coordinated administrative response, with multiple officials appearing before congressional committees to face questions about the balloon.
Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, who testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said officials had taken “all necessary steps to protect classified information” and that the balloon and its equipment could be investigated and scrutinized. said it was done.
Sherman said the People’s Republic of China “will continue to respond with determination and resolve to the dangers posed by China.” “We will make it clear to China that infringement of our sovereignty and that of other countries is unacceptable.”
A senior FBI official, who briefed reporters on the terms of anonymity under the ground rules set by the agency, said only a few balloons had arrived at the FBI’s laboratory in Quantico, Virginia, for the investigation. Stated. So far, investigators have balloon canopy parts, wiring, and what one official called “a very small amount of electronics.” “It is very early to assess what the intent was and how the device was performing,” officials said.
During another Senate subcommittee hearing, lawmakers repeatedly pressured government officials, including Pentagon military leaders, about why the balloon wasn’t shot down in a sparsely populated area of Alaska. And they questioned whether allowing balloons to pass over such a vast area would set a precedent for future espionage operations by China and others.
Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins said: “The administration’s logic would allow the Chinese to fly surveillance balloons over the Pentagon and other key sites and populated areas.”
Assistant Secretary of Homeland Defense Melissa Dalton and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chief of Operations Lt. Gen. Doug Sims said the United States wants to avoid injuries and deaths from debris if the balloon is shot down over Alaska. .
They added that shooting it down over the frigid, frozen waters of the area would have made retrieving the debris more difficult and dangerous for further analysis.
“I thought before I shot,” said Sims.
This is not the first time that the US government has publicly condemned the alleged activities of the People’s Liberation Army. In its first indictment in 2014, the Obama administration’s Justice Department indicted five PLA hackers for infiltrating the computer networks of major US companies in an attempt to steal trade secrets.
Associated Press writer Norman Merchant and Washington’s Lolita C. Bardot contributed to this report.
https://www.mcall.com/2023/02/09/us-says-china-balloon-could-collect-intelligence-signals/ US says Chinese balloons can collect intelligence signals – The Morning Call