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Chinese spy balloon could intercept comms, says State Dept.

Sailors assigned to Explosive Ordnance Disposal Group 2 recover a high-altitude surveillance balloon off the coast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Feb. 5, 2023. (U.S. Fleet Forces)
February 09, 2023

Communications signals may have been intercepted by the Chinese spy balloon that flew over the U.S. for nearly a week before being shot down over the weekend, the State Department revealed Thursday.

The agency announced that high-resolution images from U-2 flybys showed the balloon was “likely capable of collecting and geo-locating communications” using an array of multiple antennas, the New York Times reported.

The balloon was equipped with solar panels large enough to power “multiple active intelligence collection sensors,” the agency added, according to the Times.

U.S. officials say it is unclear what communications the satellite aimed to collect, the Times reported. It also has not been determined what sites it targeted for surveillance.

READ MORE: Pics: Chinese spy balloon recovered from ocean by US

The State Department said the balloon was only one part of a broader fleet of Chinese military surveillance balloons that have flown over more than 40 countries on five continents, the Times reported.

“We know these balloons are all part of a [People’s Republic of China] fleet of balloons developed to conduct surveillance operations,” an anonymous State Department official told the Washington Post.

China has insisted that the balloon was a civilian weather research balloon blown far off course, but the State Department announced Thursday that its equipment “was clearly for intelligence surveillance and inconsistent with the equipment onboard weather balloons,” the Times reported.

The agency said the government is “confident” the spy balloon was made by a company with direct ties to the Chinese military, the People’s Liberation Army, but did not name the company, the Times reported. The U.S. will “explore taking action” against Chinese entities “that supported the balloon’s incursion,” the agency said.

“We will also look at broader efforts to expose and address the P.R.C.’s larger surveillance activities that pose a threat to our national security, and to our allies and partners,” the agency added.

This was a breaking news story. The details were periodically updated as more information became available.