A new report claims U.S. intelligence officials have concluded that the Chinese spy balloon that flew over the country last year communicated by utilizing a U.S. internet service provider.
Two current U.S. officials and one former official with knowledge of the assessment told NBC News that the Chinese spy balloon used a U.S. internet provider to send and receive Chinese communications, most of which pertained to the navigation of the spy balloon.
The anonymous officials told NBC News that the official assessment of the spy balloon determined that the internet connection enabled the balloon to send high-bandwidth data over short intervals.
According to information the anonymous officials shared with NBC News, President Joe Biden’s administration requested the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court provide a secret court order that would allow the United States to obtain information about the spy balloon while it was flying over the U.S. However, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court’s ruling has not been released to the public.
NBC News reported that if the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court approved a court order, it would allow U.S. intelligence agencies to engage in electronic surveillance of the spy balloon. The court order would allow U.S. intelligence agencies to access communications sent by the ballon through the U.S. internet service provider.
While NBC News did not disclose the name of the U.S. internet service provider, the outlet reported that the internet company denied that the Chinese spy balloon had used its internet network based on an internal investigation and communication with U.S. officials.
In a statement to NBC News, Chinese Embassy spokesperson Liu Pengyu also repeated China’s claim that the spy balloon was simply a weather balloon that “unintentionally” passed into U.S. 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. “The facts are clear.”
Multiple former U.S. officials told NBC News that Chinese intelligence officials have previously utilized internet service providers in countries across the globe as backup communication networks. The officials told NBC News that China has repeatedly sought to use secure or encrypted networks in order to maintain secure communications.