U.S. Intelligence Reveals Chinese Spy Balloon's Connection Through American Internet Service

U.S. Intelligence Reveals Chinese Spy Balloon’s Connection Through American Internet Service

U.S. intelligence officials have concluded that the Chinese spy balloon, which traversed the U.S. this year, utilized an American internet service provider for communication, according to two current and one former U.S. official familiar with the assessment.

As per the evaluation, the balloon was linked to a U.S.-based company, facilitating the transmission of communications between China and the balloon, primarily related to its navigation.

Officials involved in the assessment noted that this connection enabled the balloon to transmit burst transmissions—high-bandwidth data collections over brief periods.

The Biden administration reportedly sought a highly confidential court order from the federal Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to gather intelligence while the balloon was within U.S. airspace, as disclosed by multiple current and former U.S. officials. The court’s ruling remains undisclosed.

If granted, such a court order would have empowered U.S. intelligence agencies to conduct electronic surveillance on the balloon during its U.S. flight, monitoring its messages to and from China, including those transmitted via the American internet service provider.

The implicated company, however, denied any use of its network by the Chinese balloon, asserting that this determination was based on its internal investigation and discussions with U.S. officials.

In response to inquiries, a National Security Council spokesperson deferred to the national intelligence director’s office, which declined to provide comments.

Liu Pengyu, a spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, maintained that the balloon was a weather balloon that accidentally drifted into American airspace.

“As we had made it clear before, the airship, used for meteorological research, unintentionally drifted into U.S. because of the westerlies and its limited self-steering capability,” Liu said in a statement to NBC News. “The facts are clear.”

Chinese intelligence operatives have discreetly utilized commercially accessible service providers in various countries, often employing them as alternative communication networks, as disclosed by several former U.S. officials.

These officials note a consistent preference for encrypted networks or those with robust security protocols to ensure secure communication.

The previously undisclosed U.S. initiative to monitor the balloon’s communications may explain why Biden administration officials assert that they gleaned more intelligence from the device than it obtained while traversing U.S. airspace.

Senior administration figures contend that close monitoring of the balloon’s projected flight path allowed the U.S. to safeguard sensitive ground locations. The military took precautionary measures, relocating or concealing sensitive equipment to prevent the balloon from capturing images or videos during its overhead transit.

Following the balloon’s downing on February 4, General Glen VanHerck, commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), informed reporters that exhaustive measures had been implemented by the U.S. military and intelligence community to counteract the balloon’s intelligence-gathering capabilities.

During briefing, VanHerck stated,”We took maximum precaution to prevent any intel collection, So that we could take maximum protective measures while the balloon transited across the United States.”

In a special interview this month, VanHerck mentioned collaborating with the U.S. Strategic Command, responsible for overseeing U.S. nuclear weapons, to minimize the issuance of emergency action messages. This was done to prevent the Chinese balloon from intercepting them.

“We took action to put capabilities away, whether that be airplanes, ballistic missiles in our missile fields,” VanHerck stated. “We limited our emission of emergency action messages that could be potentially collected on.”

Emergency Action Messages, or EAM, serve as the communication method through which U.S. leaders interact with strategic forces globally. These highly classified messages may involve instructing nuclear-capable forces regarding response options in the event of a nuclear war.

“Protecting EAM and nuclear command and control communications is of critical importance to the United States,” a senior defense official stated.

Following the shooting down of the balloon, a high-ranking official from the State Department stated that China had utilized it for surveillance purposes, equipped with technology capable of collecting signals intelligence.

The balloon was outfitted with several antennas, including an array likely capable of collecting and pinpointing communications, as per the official. Additionally, the balloon was powered by large solar panels that generated sufficient energy to operate intelligence collection sensors.

Officials in defense and intelligence have asserted that, based on U.S. assessments, the balloon was incapable of transmitting intelligence back to China while flying over the U.S.

After the balloon was shot down, the FBI forensics team conducted an examination and produced a classified report on the carried equipment, as disclosed by various U.S. officials. The findings of this report remain confidential and have not been widely disseminated.

In the realm of the surveillance court, where proceedings are conducted in secrecy, federal judges must ascertain whether there is probable cause to believe that the surveillance target is a foreign power or agent, and that the surveillance is essential for obtaining foreign intelligence information. The rulings of this court are classified.

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With more than two years of expertise in news and analysis, Eileen Stewart is a seasoned reporter. Eileen is a respected voice in this field, well-known for her sharp reporting and insightful analysis. Her writing covers a wide range of subjects, from politics to culture and more.