Chinese spy balloon carried equipment to collect intelligence, U.S. says

Gen Lloyd J. Austin U.S. Defense Secretary

Washington — The Chinese spy balloon that the U.S. shot down over the Atlantic Ocean last weekend carried high-tech equipment capable of collecting communications signals and other sensitive information, the U.S. government said Thursday.

The balloon had equipment that was “clearly for intelligence surveillance,” including “multiple antennas” that were “likely capable of collecting and geo-locating communications,” according to a statement by a senior State Department official. The official said the balloon is likely part of a huge aerial spy program operated by the Chinese military that has targeted more than 40 countries on five continents with similar high-altitude surveillance balloons.

The statement offered the most detail to date linking China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to the balloon that traversed the United States. The public details are meant to refute China’s persistent denials that the balloon was used for spying, including a claim Thursday that U.S. accusations about the balloon amount to “information warfare” against Beijing.

In Beijing, before the U.S. offered new information, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning repeated his nation’s insistence that the large unmanned balloon was a civilian meteorological airship that had blown off course and that the U.S. had “overreacted” by shooting it down.

“It is irresponsible,” Mao said. The latest accusations, he said, “may be part of the U.S. side’s information warfare against China.”

China’s defense minister refused to take a phone call from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to discuss the balloon issue on Saturday, the Pentagon said. China has not answered questions as to what government department or company the balloon belonged to, or how it planned to follow up on a pledge to take further action over the matter.

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