China’s military is behind a huge aerial spy program that has targeted more than 40 countries on five continents with high-altitude surveillance balloons similar to one the U.S. shot down over the Atlantic Ocean coast last weekend, the Biden administration said Thursday.
President Joe Biden was heavily criticized for allowing the spy balloon to travel unmolested through United States airspace until it reached the Atlantic.
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The statement from a senior State Department official offered the most detail to date linking China’s People’s Liberation Army to the balloon that traversed the United States, with the administration asserting that China has developed a vast surveillance program capable of collecting sensitive intelligence.
The public details are meant to refute China’s persistent denials that the balloon was used for spying, including a claim Thursday that U.S. accusations about the balloon amount to “information warfare” against Beijing.
The U.S. official said imagery of that balloon collected by American U-2 spy planes as it floated across the country showed that it was “capable of conducting signals intelligence collection” with multiple antennas and other equipment designed to upload sensitive information and solar panels to power them.
The official said an analysis of the balloon debris is “inconsistent” with China’s explanation that it was a weather balloon that went off course. The U.S. is reaching out to countries that have also been targeted, the official said, to discuss the scope of the Chinese surveillance program.
The official provided details to reporters by email on condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the matter, which had already forced the cancellation of a planned visit to China earlier this week by Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
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The official said the U.S. has confidence that the manufacturer of the balloon shot down on Saturday has “a direct relationship with China’s military and is an approved vendor of the” army. The official cited information from an official PLA procurement portal as evidence for the connection between the company and the military.
The Associated Press contributed to this article