Spy balloons of only ‘limited’ benefit to China: NSC


China’s alleged spy balloon program has only had a “limited” benefit to the country’s surveillance efforts, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said, a day after the military shot down a fourth unidentified object, spiking tensions with Beijing. 

“We assess at this time these balloons have provided limited additive capabilities to the PRC’s other intelligence platforms used over the United States,” Kirby said Monday at a White House briefing. 

The US has so far downed four flying objects in just over a week, starting with an alleged Chinese spy balloon whose journey across the country raised national security questions. China contends the balloon had no espionage purpose and was just collecting weather data.

Three more objects have since been brought down — one over Alaska on Friday, in northern Canada on Saturday and in Michigan on Sunday. Officials have stopped short of saying what the three much smaller objects are or whether they think there’s a link between them and the Chinese balloon. 

Kirby said Monday that recovery efforts were still continuing and noted the objects shot down over Alaska and Canada were in remote areas and that the object downed over Lake Huron “now lies in what is probably very deep water.”

He said officials still “have not yet been able to definitively assess what these most recent objects are.”

Kirby reiterated that spy balloons flew over the continental US during the prior Trump administration. Former President Donald Trump and some senior officials who worked for him have denied knowing that Chinese craft entered US airspace on their watch.

“It was operating during the previous administration, but they did not detect it. We detected it. We tracked it,” said Kirby. 

The Biden administration, which faced criticism from Republicans for taking days to go public about the balloon’s presence and to down it, is now on alert about the threat it says is posed by a Chinese military-backed surveillance program.

China separately on Monday claimed that 10 US balloons illegitimately flew over China since the start of 2022, without providing evidence for the claim. The US dismissed that allegation as “false.”

–With assistance from Jennifer Jacobs.

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