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US tracked up to 4 more Chinese spy balloons, leaked docs say

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)
April 21, 2023

Leaked U.S. intelligence documents have provided new details on as many as four Chinese spy balloons, including one that flew over a U.S. carrier strike group, before a balloon flew over the U.S. in February.

The documents, first reported by The Washington Post, were allegedly leaked with hundreds of others over the chat service Discord by a member of the Massachusetts Air National Guard, who is now facing charges.

According to one of the documents, a Chinese spy balloon at one point flew over a U.S. aircraft carrier strike group and another crashed in the South China Sea, the Post reported. It was not clear when these incidents occurred.

Another document said a Chinese spy balloon – called Bulger-21 by the U.S. – carried advanced surveillance equipment on a trip around the globe from December 2021 to May 2022, the Post reported. The document said another balloon referred to as Accardo-21 was similarly equipped and possibly carried a “foil-lined gimbaled” sensor.

It was not clear whether Bulger-21 and Accardo-21 were the balloons that flew over a carrier strike group and crashed in the South China Sea, making for a possible total of four balloons.

READ MORE: Chinese spy balloon got intel from sensitive military sites while flying over US: Report

The Pentagon said in February that Chinese spy balloons had flown over the U.S. at least three times when President Donald Trump was in office and at least once under President Joe Biden.

Officials have described the balloons as part of a surveillance program run by China’s People’s Liberation Army that has targeted more than 40 countries. 

The leaked documents also showed the notorious balloon from February being referred to as Killeen-23. 

A U.S. official told the Post that the naming convention for the balloons runs alphabetically from A to Z. The names revealed so far are possibly references to organized crime bosses Tony Accardo, James “Whitey” Bulger, and Donald Killeen.

The documents indicated that the February balloon’s solar panel array was “more than enough” to power “any” spying tech – including a sensor that can see through some materials and pick up fine details on the Earth’s surface.