According to a source, the US military and intelligence community had been watching the Chinese spy balloon since its launch from a base on Hainan Island near China’s southern coast. Officials are now investigating the potential that it may have veered off course.
US officials told the Washington Post on Tuesday that the surveillance balloon that was shot down off the coast of South Carolina earlier this month had been monitored for nearly a week prior to entering US airspace, and that it initially appeared to be headed toward Guam before making an unexpected turn to the north.
Analysts of intelligence are uncertain as to whether the balloon’s abrupt turn north was purposeful or unintentional, but they believe the surveillance device was likely en route to spy on US military stations in the Pacific before its path abruptly switched.
The balloon ended up floating over Alaska’s Aleutian Islands on January 28 and then entered Canada before strong winds pushed it south into the continental United States on January 31, officials told the Washington Post, adding that analysts are examining the possibility that China did not intentionally direct the spy craft to penetrate the United States.
US officials claim that Beijing took advantage of the opportunity to gather intelligence by directing the craft to loiter over Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana, which is home to one-third of the nation’s land-based nuclear missile stockpile.
On February 1st, locals observed the balloon as it drifted over the Big Sky State.
A senior US official told the Washington Post that China’s balloon surveillance program appears to be intended to “complement the satellite systems” the communist nation already has in place, and that it is “part of a larger set of programs aimed at gaining greater clarity about military facilities in the United States and other countries.”
According to the article, the People’s Liberation Army Air Force was charged with launching the balloon from Hainan Island. According to the news source, the craft was equipped with propellers and a rudder, allowing for some agility, but it was also partially guided by air currents.
A US official told the Washington Post that the payload of the dropped balloon, reported as being the size of three school buses, has not yet been assessed, but “it does not appear to be a revolutionary new capability.”
The official stated, “It appears to be more collection — everybody always wants more.”
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Tuesday that US intelligence analysts do not believe three further items shot down by US military aircraft over the weekend were related to China’s spy balloon program.
The press secretary for the White House, Karine Jean-Pierre, stated on Tuesday that the intelligence community is evaluating a benign connection to commercial or scientific institutions as the leading reason.