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3 Apr, 2023 12:56

Chinese ‘spy balloon’ made escape attempt – media

US officials shared with NBC News new details about Beijing’s alleged espionage mission
Chinese ‘spy balloon’ made escape attempt – media

China allegedly tried to speed up its balloon’s flight over the US after the administration of President Joe Biden accused Beijing of sending the vessel to surveil American targets, claimed three anonymous current and former US officials cited by NBC News.

The news outlet unveiled new details on Monday about how the balloon incident was perceived by Washington. The Chinese government has maintained that the aircraft was a scientific weather craft that strayed into American airspace rather than being part of an espionage program as alleged by US officials.

The NBC News sources claimed that China could control the balloon “so it could make multiple passes over some of the sites” it targeted for electronic signal collection. After its presence became public in early February, the operators “increased its speed” in an alleged attempt “to get it out of US airspace as quickly as possible.”

The report stated that the US government had been disrupting the balloon’s mission by moving potential targets around and stopping them from broadcasting. If not for these efforts, “China could have gathered much more intelligence from sensitive sites,” according to the unnamed officials.

The outlet said that its sources had declined to say which organization in China was responsible for the mission. Meanwhile, the officials reiterated claims that the aircraft had a self-destruct mechanism, which could have been triggered remotely but apparently didn’t activate for some reason.

The high-altitude aircraft entered US airspace near Alaska in late January and flew over a large swath of the country before being shot down by the US Air Force on February 4 off the coast of South Carolina. The Malmstrom Air Force Base in the state of Montana, where the US stores some of its nuclear weapons, was allegedly among the mission’s intended targets.

Domestic opponents of President Biden criticized him for a perceived reluctance to take out the Chinese craft, a hesitancy that his administration attributed to safety concerns. It said it could not control where the debris would fall and had to wait until the balloon had moved away from land.

The US has a record of identifying what it sees as potential sources of espionage by Beijing, including exchange students from China, Chinese-made cranes in US ports, and the country’s video-sharing platform TikTok.