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Thursday, April 25, 2024

US: Chinese Military Likely at Center of Balloon-Spying Operation

https://ift.tt/65pEWld United States said Thursday that China’s military is likely responsible for Beijing’s high-altitude balloon surveillance program, which it said is designed to gather intelligence signals from across the globe.

“The high-altitude balloons’ equipment was clearly for intelligence surveillance and inconsistent with the equipment on board weather balloons,” a senior, anonymous State Department official said, dismissing Beijing’s contention that the balloons were collecting weather data.

The statement was issued as U.S. officials examine parts of a Chinese balloon that was shot down by a U.S. fighter jet last weekend over the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of South Carolina.

“These kinds of activities are often undertaken at the direction of the People’s Liberation Army,” the State Department official said. “We are confident that the balloon manufacturer has a direct relationship with China’s military and is an approved vendor of the PLA, according to information published in an official procurement portal for the PLA.”

The U.S. statement said the manufacturer “advertises balloon products on its website and hosts videos from past flights, which appear to have overflown U.S. airspace and airspace of other countries. These advertised balloon videos seemingly have similar flight patterns as the balloons” identified by the U.S. as having violated the airspace of dozens of countries.

“It had multiple antennas to include an array likely capable of collecting and geo-locating communications,” the official said of the balloon parts recovered. “It was equipped with solar panels large enough to produce the requisite power to operate multiple active intelligence collection sensors.”

The official added that from China’s “messaging and public comments, it’s clear that they have been scrambling to explain why they violated U.S. sovereignty and still have no plausible explanation – and have found themselves on their heels.”

China on Thursday dismissed the U.S. accusations as “information warfare against China.” Foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning repeated Beijing’s insistence that the large, unmanned balloon was a civilian meteorological airship that was accidentally blown off course and that the U.S. had “overreacted” by shooting it down.

“It is irresponsible,” Mao said at a daily briefing.

The State Department and defense officials have heightened their criticism of Beijing’s surveillance efforts as U.S. forensic experts examine parts recovered following the shootdown. They say China has flown the surveillance balloons over more than 40 countries across five continents.

The U.S. says it has identified five such Chinese balloon flights over the U.S. in recent years, including three during the administration of former President Donald Trump that were unrecognized at the time and one earlier during the White House tenure of President Joe Biden. The most recent flight traversed the continental U.S. for eight days, passing over key military installations before it was shot down.

The U.S. said it is exploring a reprisal against Chinese entities linked to the balloon-spying operation.

“We will also look at broader efforts to expose and address [China’s] larger surveillance activities that pose a threat to our national security, and to our allies and partners,” the State Department said.

Author webdesk@voanews.com (Ken Bredemeier)
Source : VOA

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