Chinese Spy Balloon Was Chock Full Of Commercial US Tech, Investigation Finds: REPORT

(Photo by Ryan Seelbach/U.S. Navy via Getty Images)

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Micaela Burrow Investigative Reporter, Defense
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Early findings in the analysis of debris from the Chinese spy balloon that floated over the U.S. earlier in January show that designers used a wide array of commercially available U.S.-made equipment that directly aided its surveillance capabilities, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing U.S. officials with knowledge of the investigation.

Several members of the intelligence community, including the FBI and the Department of Defense (DOD), have picked apart remains of the downed balloon from debris retrieved from the Atlantic, finding U.S.-made equipment for collecting photos, videos and other forms of information, according to the WSJ, citing the U.S. officials. It also contained specialized Chinese-made collection equipment, supporting the Biden administration’s ultimate conclusion that China deployed the balloon to spy on Americans.

Some of the U.S. gear is available for sale online, the officials said. They described the balloon as a creative way to gather information on U.S. national security sites, but added that it did not appear to transmit any data back to China. (RELATED: US Bans Chinese Tech That Allegedly Lets China Spy On Military Sites)

Discovery of the balloon riddled U.S.-China relations with added tension as China denied the balloon was meant for surveillance. A civilian airship meant for weather monitoring had veered off course, Chinese officials said.

Authorities in the Pentagon disclosed that it transited over several sensitive U.S. military installations and could be maneuvered from a control center off mainland China, calling into question Beijing’s portrayal of the situation.

At the time, Secretary of State Antony Blinken planned to make his first trip to China, tentative steps in reconciliation with Beijing. But the errant spy balloon, and its subsequent shoot-down by the U.S. military off the coast of South Carolina after it transited from Alaska across the contiguous U.S., stalled those plans and led to China breaking off military-to-military communication with the U.S.

Blinken did hold a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing earlier in June, saying afterward the “chapter” of the spy balloon incident “should be closed” as long as it does not repeat.

President Joe Biden called the incident “more embarrassing than it was intentional” for Beijing, according to the WSJ, as some analysis taking into account wind patterns suggests the balloon was intended to surveil Hawaii and did indeed blow off course to Alaska.

Some parts of the U.S. military, including the Defense Intelligence Agency, wanted to put remnants of the surveillance airship on display for the American public to view, the officials said, according to the WSJ. However, so far the Biden administration has vetoed any attempt to disclose the investigation’s results or parts of the balloon, one official said.

Chinese officials have expressed concern about the fallout in U.S.-China relations if the White House publishes the final results of the investigation as Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is set to visit Beijing in July, according to the WSJ.

The White House and intelligence and defense agencies involved in the investigation declined to comment, according to the WSJ.

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