Pentagon Spokeswoman: China Was Able to Maneuver Spy Balloon, But Can't Say If It Was Transmitting to Beijing in Real Time

( – A Defense Department spokeswoman said on Monday the Biden administration took “precautionary steps to limit the intelligence” that the Chinese spy balloon was able to collect as it drifted over the entire continental United States, including sensitive military installations.

But that comment conflicts with an NBC News report, which said the Chinese spy balloon “was able to gather intelligence from several sensitive American military sites, despite the Biden administration’s efforts to block it from doing so.”

NBC identified its sources as “two current senior U.S. officials and one former senior administration official.”

According to NBC:

“China was able to control the balloon so it could make multiple passes over some of the sites (at times flying figure-eight formations) and transmit the information it collected back to Beijing in real time, the three officials said. The intelligence China collected was mostly from electronic signals, which can be picked up from weapons systems or include communications from base personnel, rather than images, the officials said.

“The three officials said China could have gathered much more intelligence from sensitive sites if not for the administration’s efforts to move around potential targets and obscure the balloon’s ability to pick up their electronic signals by stopping them from broadcasting or emitting signals.”

Asked about the NBC report on Monday, Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh said, “As the Pentagon said before, the surveillance balloon, we believe, had limited ability to collect any additional — much additional intelligence beyond what could be collected through other surveillance means, and I just don’t have anything beyond that to add.”


Singh said she didn’t “have further information” on what was being transmitted from the balloon to China.

“As soon as we realized that they were collecting intelligence and hovering over our sensitive sites, we took measures and put into place measures that limited the additive value that the balloon could collect on,” she said.

A reporter asked Singh if the Biden administration knew at the time that the spy balloon was “able to transmit back in real time to Beijing.”

“I wouldn’t be able to say that they were able to transmit back to Beijing. We just don’t have — I — I just don’t have that type of information at this point…That is not confirmed at this point.”

The reporter asked Singh how “confident” the administration is that the mitigation measures it put in place “actually worked — or is there new evidence suggesting that some intelligence was collected, despite the mitigation efforts?”

“Yeah — no, thanks for the question,” Singh said.

“So we are confident in the measures that we did put in place. I — I know I — I sound like a broken record, I don’t mean to, but what we know is that the intent of this balloon was surveillance and that what — the measures that we put in place didn’t — did not — had limited additive value for what they were able to collect over our sensitive sites…The mitigation efforts that we put into place had little additive value for the PRC,” she clarified.

Singh said the FBI is “still assessing” the remains of the spy balloon, recovered off the coast of South Carolina after the U.S. shot it down on February 4, for its intelligence value to the U.S.

“As we mentioned early on, when we first started tracking the balloon, we do know that the balloon was able to be maneuvered and purposely driven along its track but not going to get into specific sites it was able to hover over.”

In a speech to the nation on February 16, President Biden told the American people he waited until the huge spy balloon “was safely over water” to give the shoot-down order:

“It was the size of multiple school busses, and it posed a risk to people on the ground if it was shot down where people lived,” Biden said. “Instead, we tracked it closely, we analyzed its capabilities, and we learned more about how it operates.

“And because we knew its path, we were able to protect sensitive sites against collection…We will act to protect our country, and we did.”

Ten days earlier, on February 6, Biden responded to shouted questions from reporters as he crossed the South Lawn:

One reporter asked him why the Chinese would “commit such a brazen act.”

Biden laughed: “They’re the Chinese government,” he said.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), the ranking member of the intelligence committee, told Fox News on Monday there’s no mystery about what the Chinese spy balloon was doing:

“There’s a reason why these things fly. They fly over the country to collect signals intelligence,” Rubio said.

“Part of it is a test to see whether they can penetrate our air space; part of it is, frankly, collecting intelligence in real time — video signals intelligence, still pictures fed back in real time and so forth. That’s what this was.”


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