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NY Post
New York Post
24 Feb 2024

NextImg:Full year after Chinese spy balloon, Biden admin slammed for continued secrecy surrounding craft

One full year after the US Air Force shot a Chinese spy balloon out of the sky, the FBI’s forensic report on the craft’s surveillance capabilities remains veiled in secrecy — sparking a blunt demand for “appropriate transparency” from the Biden administration, The Post has learned.

The giant balloon’s days-long journey across the entire North American continent in early 2023 — which dominated headlines around the world until its remnants were fished out of the ocean off the coast of South Carolina on Feb. 17 — was a “major intelligence failure” caused by President Biden’s weakness, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) wrote Friday to FBI Director Christopher Wray.

“It is time that the administration comes clean about what it knows regarding the balloon and when it knew it,” Issa’s letter continues.

California Rep. Darrell Issa, who called the balloon’s intrusion a “major intelligence failure,” pushed the Biden administration to finally reveal the results of the FBI’s report on its capabilities. CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

“More than a year after the incident, the Bureau has yet to brief members [of Congress] on the results,” wrote Issa, a senior member of the House Judiciary and Foreign Affairs committees.

“Meanwhile, the administration has failed to provide a satisfactory account to the public despite its assurances of appropriate transparency.”

“Ultimately, this serves China’s interest and not America’s,” he added.

The spy balloon saga began on Jan. 27, 2023, when North American Aerospace Defense Command’s radar surveillance saw the 200-foot-tall spycraft enter US airspace over Alaska, days after the National Security Agency picked up its launch in China.

“There’s no way that the president and the secretary of defense didn’t know that it was coming,” said John Venable, a Heritage Foundation defense analyst. “This was a gross breach in national security that put the United States at great risk.”

The balloon’s days-long journey and its destruction by a pair of US Air Force jets grabbed headlines. scalle

But the Biden administration took no action as the balloon, equipped with solar panels and a payload of surveillance devices equal in size to a regional jetliner, traversed half of Canada and re-entered the US over Montana on Jan. 31.

When Americans on the ground spotted the mysterious orb far overhead, the White House claimed it was harmless — then allowed it to float clear across the continent.

Biden finally ordered US Air Force jets to shoot the balloon down over the Atlantic Ocean on Feb. 4, drawing protest from Beijing, which has insisted the balloon was a civilian meteorological craft that strayed off course.

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In the months since, government leakers revealed the craft flew over at least six of America’s most sensitive military sites — including Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile silos and the headquarters of US Strategic Command — and countless civilian power plants and communication centers, making multiple passes over key installations to pick up additional data.

Biden attempted to absolve Beijing of responsibility for the incident, saying in June 2023 that Chinese President Xi Jinping “didn’t know” the balloon was heading for the US and claiming it had been “blown off course.”

But a December report disclosed that the administration was aware the balloon was communicating with mainland China via an American internet provider during its week-long flight.

The massive balloon was more than 200 feet tall and carried a payload packed with surveillance equipment. Department of Defense

“Every revelation that we have learned since the balloon crossed the country has been more damaging than the last,” Issa told The Post.

“From the Chinese balloon’s first sighting, the Biden White House never told the truth, misled the American people, and has covered up the truth ever since,” he added.

“That they continue to appease Beijing only makes it worse. This Congress will get the answers the public deserves.”

The FBI declined to comment on the matter.

The balloon had been communicating with mainland China via an American internet provider AP

The FBI’s prolonged silence on its probe — reportedly completed in April 2023, but withheld at China’s behest — is “surprising and concerning,” said security expert Bryan Clark, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.

“I suspect it means that this balloon carried more sophisticated intelligence gathering capabilities than we have been led to believe,” he said, adding that such technology may even have allowed it to scoop up intelligence for a cyberattack on the US power grid.

“China’s ability to gather this information without any repercussions or any apparent countermeasures means that they are now more equipped down the road to threaten not only our nuclear weapons complex, but also our critical infrastructure,” Clark said.

Biden finally ordered the US Air Force to take the balloon down on Feb. 4, once it was floating over the Atlantic Ocean. AP

“For example, it could have gathered a lot of electronic intelligence on the wireless communications associated with our power grid — information they might be able to use to inject cyber code into our electrical grid control systems,” he warned.

The FBI’s continued silence hints that sophisticated visual sensors, infrared cameras, and advanced synthetic aperture radar may have been part of the balloon’s payload, the experts said.

“Our military uses those capabilities to do targeting,” said Venable, a retired Air Force colonel.

The spy balloon was allowed to fly over at least six sensitive military sites from Montana to South Carolina. Associated Press

A slow-moving balloon is ideal for detailed mapping of a target and can gather all kinds of electronic communications, Venable said.

“With a balloon, you can pick up things that satellites never would clue in on,” he continued. “Even classified signals at these military bases could be gobbled up, transmitted back to China, and then deciphered there.”

On Friday, federal officials said that NORAD had tracked a “small” high-altitude balloon of unknown origin flying over Utah, but said that it posed no threat to national security.