Chinese observation balloon shot down in U.S. was “clearly” equipped with spy tools, U.S. official says

Steph Deschamps / February 12, 2023

Images captured by U.S. military aircraft show that the Chinese balloon that flew over the United States last week was indeed equipped with spy tools, not intended for weather, an official in Washington said Thursday.


Images taken by U2 spy planes indicate that the balloon’s equipment “was clearly made for observation for espionage purposes, and does not fit with weather balloon equipment,” the senior U.S. State Department official said on condition of anonymity.


“It had numerous antennas, a set probably capable of collecting and geo-locating communications,” he added in a statement. The balloon “was equipped with solar panels large enough to provide power to operate multiple sensors collecting intelligence,” he said.


Washington shot down Saturday off its Atlantic coast a balloon that had flown over sensitive military sites and described by Beijing as a “civilian aircraft used for research purposes, mainly meteorological. This diplomatic clash had led the head of the American diplomacy Antony Blinken to postpone a rare visit to China.


The U.S. believes the balloon was controlled by the Chinese military and was part of a fleet of balloons sent by Beijing over more than 40 countries on five continents for espionage purposes. “We are convinced that the manufacturer of the balloon has a direct link to the Chinese military,” the senior official added. He said Washington was weighing possible actions against Chinese entities linked to the balloon – which could indicate possible future sanctions.


U.S. authorities are still working to collect debris from the balloon in the Atlantic near the coast of South Carolina. Earlier Thursday, China confirmed that it denied a phone call from Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin on Saturday, shortly after the balloon was destroyed. “This irresponsible and seriously erroneous act did not create an atmosphere conducive to dialogue and exchanges between the two armies,” the Chinese Ministry of Defense justified in a statement.

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