Before China’s spy balloon, classified report highlights foreign air espionage

WASHINGTON — A Chinese spy balloon hovering over the continental United States has created deep concern over Capitol Hill in part because it came shortly after a classified report to Congress outlining incidents of human trafficking. U.S. adversaries have the ability to use advanced aerial technology to spy on the country.

According to US officials, the report classified before Congress last month discussed at least two incidents of a rival power conducting aerial surveillance with what appeared to be cutting-edge technology yet to be discovered. known. While the report did not attribute the incidents to any single country, two US officials familiar with the study said the surveillance was likely carried out by China.

Reporting on what intelligence agencies call unidentified aerial phenomena focuses on a number of alleged surveillance incidents. Some of those incidents involved balloons, while others involved quadcopter drones.

The Chinese government on Friday said Chinese hot air balloons discovered this week in the United States were mainly for weather research. However, US officials said they have assessed it as a collection device, although not one that can collect the kind of sensitive information that China’s advanced reconnaissance satellites have picked up. ten.

Many countries use aerial espionage technology to collect data on adversaries as well as allies and partners, and look at remote regions of the globe. But reality can lead to greater diplomatic crisis and military tension when it goes the wrong way.

On Friday, Antony J. Blinken, the US secretary of state, canceled a weekend trip to Beijing that would be the first visit by the top US diplomat there since October 2018, after when American news agencies began reporting on the Chinese spy balloon on Thursday, as it drifted over Montana. In 2001, a US Navy signal intelligence plane collided with a Chinese jet interceptor near the Chinese island of Hainan; The incident left a Chinese pilot presumed dead and led to a diplomatic crisis involving the leaders of the two countries.

According to a Pentagon report, China spends about $209 billion, or 1.3% of its gross domestic product, on its military overall. But policymakers in Washington are particularly worried about their investments in technologies that could have military or intelligence applications.

US defense officials believe that China is conducting surveillance of military training and exercise facilities as part of an effort to better understand how the United States trains pilots and conducts complex military operations. complex. Sites where the unusual surveillance occurred include a military base in the United States and a base overseas, officials said.

A classified report mentioned Naval Air Station Fallon in Nevada and Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Japan as locations where foreign surveillance was alleged to have occurred, but did not mention it. China is clearly behind these actions, a US official said.

Since 2021, the Pentagon has examined 366 unexplained initial incidents and said 163 were caused by balloons. Several incidents involved advanced surveillance balloons, but none of them conducted continuous reconnaissance of US military bases, according to a US official. (However, spy balloons that the US government immediately identified were not included in tracking the unidentified aerial phenomenon, according to two US officials.)

Because spy balloons are a relatively basic gathering device and other balloons don’t last long in the United States, they haven’t previously caused much concern to the Pentagon or other agencies, according to two officials. Intelligence.

Surveillance incidents involving advanced technology and described in the report are classified as potentially more troubling, involving unexplainable behaviors and characteristics.

Officials say further investigation is needed but the incidents may indicate a technology use that is not fully understood or has not been identified publicly. Of the 171 reports that were not attributed to balloons, drones or airborne debris, some “appear to have demonstrated unusual flight characteristics or performance capabilities and require further analysis.” “.

Even outside of the incidents mentioned in the classified report, some current and former military officials have warned against underestimating the advanced surveillance technology that could be embedded in a spy balloon. China is now traveling all over the United States. Pentagon officials say the belly of the balloon containing the surveillance equipment is about 90 feet long, the equivalent of three school buses.

General Victor E. Renuart Jr., former head of North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, said: “There are more potential risks from these types of balloons than many people think. Northern Command of the United States Army.

Officials warn that imperfect radar and sensor readings can be confusing, making an ordinary object appear to be something threatening.

The Pentagon has released images of several suspected surveillance incidents that were initially unexplained. The images show green triangles in the air taken near two different Navy exercises. At a congressional hearing last year, Pentagon officials said the triangles were simply small drones. The use of night vision devices made them look like they were from another world.

While the drone has not been officially attributed to any country, on one occasion a Chinese vessel was nearby.

It is unclear to what extent the evidence suggests that China is using an advanced technology that the United States does not possess. Some U.S. officials remain skeptical that China would risk exposing some of its most advanced technology in any surveillance the United States might uncover.

Surveillance balloons have stirred outrage on Capitol Hill. Some officials said information about rival spies contained in classified reports of unidentified aerial phenomena had previously raised concerns.

Both Republicans and Democrats are hawkish toward China, calling surveillance balloons a violation of US sovereignty and underscoring the threat posed by Beijing.

Mike Gallagher, Republican of Wisconsin, a member of the House Intelligence Committee and chairman of the new House committee on China, said the administration needs to tell lawmakers more about what it knows about it. surveillance of military facilities.

“This is all the more reason for the House Intelligence Committee to receive a full report on this matter,” Gallagher said Friday. “There is a recorded history of unidentified — and now identified — objects near sensitive military facilities, and we urgently need action to get to the bottom of this matter. “

When China tested a hypersonic missile in 2021, General Mark A. Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned that it was something akin to the Sputnik moment, referring to a successful satellite launch. during the Soviet Cold War. Hypersonics is an important technology focus for Beijing and is one of the areas where China has demonstrated capabilities that match or exceed those of the US military.

But the potentially advanced technology-related incidents described in the report are classified as unrelated to any type of supersonic propulsion, US officials said, as well as disdain. China’s spy balloon is currently floating over the US.

“We don’t need any more evidence that we’re in a long-term competition like the Cold War would be,” said Evan Medeiros, a Georgetown University professor and senior director for Asia. expressed in military and intelligence terms over the next decade. on the White House National Security Council during the Obama administration, talking about the hot air balloon incident involving China. “And what the relationship is missing is the mechanisms to manage this.”

Eric Schmitt, Michael Crowley, Helene Cooper And Adam Entous contribution report.


News5s: Update the world's latest breaking news online of the day, breaking news, politics, society today, international mainstream news .Updated news 24/7: Entertainment, the World everyday world. Hot news, images, video clips that are updated quickly and reliably

Related Articles

Back to top button