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Spy balloon couldn’t get more intel than satellites can: Pentagon

Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh conducts a press briefing at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., Nov. 17, 2022. (DoD photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Alexander Kubitza)
April 04, 2023

The Chinese spy balloon that flew over the U.S. in February was not able to collect any intelligence that could not also be gathered via satellites, the Pentagon said after a news report indicated the balloon had successfully spied on sensitive military sites.

“We’re still doing an assessment of what exactly the intel was that China was able to gather, but we do know that the steps that we took provided little additive value for what they’ve been able to collect on from satellites before,” Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh said during a press conference Monday.

Her comment came the same day as an NBC News report in which anonymous U.S. officials said the balloon passed over sensitive military sites and transmitted data back to Beijing in real time. 

READ MORE: Spy balloon launched from Chinese island was tracked the whole time, sources say

Singh echoed the reassurances of Pentagon officials who have said from the beginning that the balloon did not “create significant value added over and above what [China’s military] is likely able to collect through things like satellites in low Earth orbit.” That information was also in NBC’s report.

Singh declined to confirm NBC’s reporting that the balloon sent real-time intelligence back to Beijing. “That is not confirmed at this point,” she said, adding, “That’s something that we’re analyzing right now.”

She also said she “just wouldn’t be able to say at this time” whether the balloon had a self-destruct feature that was never activated, as NBC had reported.

READ MORE: China wants spy balloon back: ‘It belongs to China’

The spy balloon’s path took it over Alaska and a broad swath of the American heartland before it was shot down over the ocean off of South Carolina on Feb. 4. It flew near all three bases where the U.S. keeps land-based nuclear missiles and was observed lingering near one of them in Montana, as reported by NBC.

As Pentagon officials have previously said, Singh said she was “not going to get into specific sites [the balloon] was able to hover over.”