US officials say Chinese spy balloon carried equipment to collect intelligence

Posted at 11:42 AM, Feb 09, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-10 11:20:27-05

WASHINGTON, DC - The Senate Appropriations/Defense subcommittee held a hearing on Thursday on the Chinese surveillance balloon that was seen over Montana last week.

The US military eventually shot down the balloon over the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of South Carolina on Saturday.

Montana US Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) opened Thursday’s proceedings by denouncing China’s actions.

“Make no mistake about it, what China did last week was completely unacceptable and a real threat to American sovereignty. It deserves a real response from a united America.”

A senior state department official stated that China's military is likely behind the surveillance program that has flown balloons over more than 40 countries across five continents. China denies the accusation.

The U.S. military says it is getting ready to bring up fragments of the Chinese balloon, including pieces of cameras and antennas.

"Do we know what the Chinese Communist government was looking for?” Sen. Tester asked.

“Senator, we have some very good guesses about that and we are learning more as we exploit the contents of the balloon and payload itself,” Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Jedidah Royal responded.

Biden administration officials speaking Thursday called it an irresponsible act on the part of the People's Republic of China (PRC).

“We will confront the dangers posed by the PRC with resolve and keep demonstrating that violations of any country's sovereignty are unacceptable,” said Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman.

In an exclusive interview with CBS News, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told David Martin the balloon's route took it past ballistic missile fields and a B-2 stealth bomber base.

“We were, we made sure that we were buttoned down and movement was limited and communications were limited,” Austin said.

A senior State Department official says China's military is likely behind the surveillance program which has flown balloons over more than 40 countries across five continents.

Watch the video from Thursday's hearing provided by Sen. Tester below.

The Biden administration says it is reaching out to countries about the scope of the program and it warned that it will explore taking action against entities linked to China's military that were involved in the incident.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson denied the accusations Thursday -- calling it "information warfare" and repeated China's claim that the balloon was a civilian meteorological airship.

While the fallout over the incident continues the United States carried out air drills with Britain and Australia to simulate high-end combat operations against Chinese fighter planes.

The senior State Department official added that the balloon was capable of conducting "signals intelligence collection” with multiple antennas and other equipment designed to upload sensitive information.

U.S. Senator Steve Daines (R-MT) issued a statement following a Thursday security briefing from Biden Administration officials.

“Unfortunately I left the administration’s briefing with more questions than when I went in. It is completely unacceptable and infuriating that the Chinese spy balloon was allowed to hover over Montana and our missile bases to begin with and was then allowed to travel across the entire United States before it was brought down. Montanans deserve more answers.”