The United States has said it is still doing an assessment of what exactly intelligence information China was able to gather from its spy balloon that flew over sensitive American military sites in February.
The comments from the Pentagon came after a media report said the Chinese spy balloon gathered information about some of the US military sites through electronic signals.
“As of right now, we’re still doing an assessment of what exactly the intel was that China was able to gather but we do know that the steps that we took provided little additive value for what they’ve been able to collect from satellites before,” Pentagon Deputy Press Secretary Sabrina Singh told reporters at a news conference here.
The balloon had entered the United States from Alaska on January 28 and crossed through several States over various sensitive military sites, including Montana where the US stores some of its nuclear assets, before it was shot down in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of South Carolina on February 4.
NBC News, citing two current senior US officials and one former senior administration official, said China was able to control the balloon so it could make multiple passes over some of the sites (at times flying figure eight formations) and transmit the information it collected back to Beijing in real-time.
“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 said,” the news channel said.
Responding to questions, Singh said because of the steps that the US was able to take, it was able to prevent transmission of certain aspects of the sites to be transmitted.
“But in terms of transmission back to the PRC (People’s Republic of China) and what was able to be transmitted back, I just don’t have further information for you at this time,” she said.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation, she said, is still assessing the parts that the US was able to recover from the balloon.
“As we mentioned early on when we first started tracking the balloon, we do know that the balloon was able to be manoeuvred and purposely driven along its track but not going to get into specific sites it was able to hover over,” Singh said.
“But what we did do is take precautionary steps to limit the intelligence value that it would be able to collect and we took steps to protect our military installations from foreign intelligence collection,” she said.
The White House told the reporters that the spy balloon had limited ability to collect intelligence information.
“As the Pentagon said before, the surveillance balloon, we believe, had limited ability to collect any much additional intelligence beyond what could be collected through other surveillance means,” White House Deputy Press Secretary Olivia Dalton told reporters during an Air Force One gaggle.
Following the news reports, Senator Roger Wicker, ranking member of Senate Armed Services, said “these revelations” clearly demonstrate that the administration made an “unacceptable mistake”.
“We have consistently learned more from press reports about the Chinese surveillance balloon than we have from administration officials. These revelations clearly demonstrate that the administration made an unacceptable mistake,” he said in a statement.
“I will not abandon my oversight efforts to discover the full range of information related to this event, and I intend to hold this administration accountable. It is critical that Congress also explores the capability and protocol improvements at the Department of Defense that are necessary to prevent something like this failure from ever happening again,” Wicker said.