A defense expert and an Asian studies expert are reacting to NBC News’ exclusive reporting that the Chinese spy balloon that traveled across the U.S. earlier this year collected intelligence from numerous U.S. military sites, although the Biden administration attempted to prevent the espionage from happening.
The balloon, first detected Jan. 28, was controlled by China “so it could make multiple passes over some of the [military] sites” and could “transmit the information it collected back to Beijing in real time,” two current senior U.S. officials and one former senior administration official told NBC News.
The U.S. military shot down the Chinese spy balloon off the South Carolina coast Feb. 4, two days after it first was publicly reported and following a rash of criticism of the Biden administration for its delayed action.
The officials told NBC News that “the intelligence China collected was mostly from electronic signals, which can be picked up from weapons systems or include communications from base personnel, rather than images.”
The officials also said that “China could have gathered much more intelligence from sensitive sites if not for the administration’s efforts to move around potential targets and obscure the balloon’s ability to pick up their electronic signals by stopping them from broadcasting or emitting signals,” according to NBC.
“If it’s true that the balloon was gathering intel and sending it back to China in real time, then the Biden administration has a lot of explaining to do,” Michael Cunningham, a research fellow in the Asian Studies Center at The Heritage Foundation, told The Daily Signal in an email. (The Daily Signal is the multimedia news organization of The Heritage Foundation.)
“If the administration really tracked the balloon as it entered U.S. airspace around Alaska as it claims, then they probably had opportunities to shoot it down safely before it traversed the entire United States and collected this information,” Cunningham said.
“Did the administration successfully jam its transmission? Did they even try? Or did they just watch it hover over sensitive military sites and transmit data to China? The media reports today make it sound like the latter, and if that’s the case then it’s a huge dereliction of duty,” he said.
Cunningham added, referring to the Chinese Communist Party:
We’ve always known that the CCP spies on us, and I don’t think anyone serious bought into Beijing’s claim that it was a civilian weather balloon.
But this serves as a very prominent example of just how brazen China is in its espionage efforts, how wide-ranging these efforts are—in that they use not only sophisticated satellites but also much less sophisticated balloons—and how adamantly they lie about their actions and intentions.
Cunningham also discussed how the U.S. can better protect itself in the future from similar incidents like the spy balloon.
“We can’t stop Beijing from conducting these kinds of activities, but we can and should neutralize the threat as soon as it is detected in U.S. airspace,” Cunningham said. “Hopefully the public backlash caused by this incident will result in this and future administrations taking these threats more seriously.”
Dakota Wood, senior research fellow for defense programs in The Heritage Foundation’s Center for National Defense, also weighed in on the report.
“The recent news reporting about China’s spy-balloon collecting information on sensitive military sites in the U.S. should come as no surprise to anyone who follows military and intelligence matters,” Wood told The Daily Signal in an email. “China intentionally flew a surveillance craft over the U.S. with the express purpose of collecting such information. Whether it means to use the information is acquired sooner or later is almost irrelevant. “
“Intelligence collection efforts by one state on another happen all of the time and are intended to build a constantly updated body of knowledge about one’s adversary so that when the time is right, the understanding can be used to maximum effect, whether in war, economic competition, or political manipulation,” Wood said, adding:
It would be the height of arrogance and stupidity to presume that the Chinese would be so primitive and ignorant in their surveillance effort that they would not account for U.S. efforts to thwart such collection, or that U.S. knowledge of China’s capabilities and our own ability to counter such are so good that they would prevent China from achieving what it intended.
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