U.S. officials knew about the Chinese spy balloon shot down off the coast of South Carolina from the moment it took off, sources said on Tuesday – leading to further questions about why it was not shot down sooner.
The balloon took off from Hainan Island off southern China at the end of January, and entered U.S. airspace on January 28 above Alaska. It briefly entered Canada and crossed back into U.S. territory over northern Idaho on January 30, the day the White House said Biden was first briefed on it.
The balloon traversed the United States, passing over multiple sensitive sites, before being shot down as soon as it passed over the sea.
The Pentagon said it was too risky to shoot down over land.
But on Tuesday, The New York Times reported the balloon was being monitored right from the moment it took off.
‘In a sign of how closely the United States had been monitoring the balloon surveillance program directed by the Chinese military recently, U.S. officials said in interviews that they began tracking the spy balloon as it lifted off from Hainan Island in southern China in late January,’ the paper reported.
Republicans have demanded to know why it was not shot down sooner, and Tuesday’s report will only serve to increase their volume.
The balloon was struck by a missile from an F-22 fighter just off Myrtle Beach, fascinating sky-watchers across a populous area known as the Grand Strand for its miles of beaches that draw retirees and vacationers.
A report from the Washington Post details that the airship, which triggered a dramatic – and very public – spying saga that worsened Chinese-U.S. relations has been a key part of Beijing’s intelligence operations for years.
The report says that the Chinese military has previously sent balloons into the airspace of geopolitical rivals such as Japan, India and the Philippines.
Over the weekend, more balloons were shot down over Alaska, Canada’s Yukon province, and Lake Huron.
Secretary of State Anthony Blinken postponed his trip to China hours before he was due to leave because of the balloon.
China’s defense minster, meanwhile, rejected an overture from US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to discuss the events.
The Pentagon said in a statement: ‘Lines between our militaries are particularly important in moments like this. Unfortunately, the PRC has declined our request. Our commitment to open lines of communication will continue,’ reports Politico.
One senior official told the Post that China’s airship program represents a ‘massive effort’ within the country’s espionage programs.
The program is based of the Yulin Naval Base on Hainan Island on China’s southern coast.
A Japanese official told the newspaper that, in 2020, a giant sphere was spotted over the country, which many believed was a UFO.
That official said: ‘In hindsight people are realizing that was a Chinese espionage tool. But at that time it was purely novel — nobody had seen this.’
Intelligence officials do not have an estimate on how many spy balloons the Chinese military possesses.
An official did use the word ‘dozens’ when asked about how many sightings there have been in recent years, according to the Post.
The newspaper went on to report that in June 2022, a spy balloon crashed in Hawaii.
As a result, the US military were able to gleam valuable information about Chinese military technology.
Speaking about the advantages of using a balloon for spying reasons rather than more sophisticated technology, retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Charlie ‘Tuna’ Moore said: ‘If you have a balloon that’s moving extremely slowly you have persistence that you can’t get from a satellite.’
Moore added that typically satellites only have seconds in order to take pictures of their targets.
Last week, Biden officials held briefings in Washington and Beijing with foreign diplomats from 40 nations about the balloon.
Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman on February 6 briefed nearly 150 foreign diplomats across 40 embassies, an official said, while in Beijing the U.S. embassy gathered foreign diplomats on February 6 and 7 to present U.S. findings about the balloon.
‘We want to make sure that we are sharing as much as we can with countries around the world who may also be susceptible to these types of operations,’ the senior administration official said.
China has said it was a weather balloon that had blown off course into U.S. airspace and was an ‘unexpected, isolated incident.’
It condemned the shoot-down and accused the United States of overreacting.
‘For the U.S. to insist on using armed force is clearly an overreaction that seriously violates international practice,’ the Chinese foreign ministry said in a statement.
Beijing threatened that it ‘reserved the right to take further actions in response’.
Source : Daily Mail