An unnamed senior State Department official has claimed the balloon was capable of “signals intelligence collection operations”
US President Joe Biden has defended his administration’s response after a Chinese-made balloon crossed into American airspace, insisting the suspicious device did not represent a “major breach.” While lawmakers in both parties have criticized the delay in shooting down the craft, Biden said it was done as soon as possible.
The president was asked about the balloon incident during an interview with the Spanish-language outlet Noticias Telemundo on Thursday, suggesting it never posed serious risk to life or limb while stating he has no regrets about the US reaction.
“The total amount of intelligence gathering that’s going on by every country around the world is overwhelming,” he said. “It’s not a major breach. I mean, look … it’s a violation of international law. It’s our airspace. And once it comes into our space, we can do what we want with it.”
Both Republicans and Democrats alike have criticized the president for waiting nearly a week before ordering the balloon to be shot down, but Biden cited concerns among military officials that the craft could fall into a populated area and cause harm, saying the order was given as soon as possible.
US accused of waging ‘information warfare’
“This thing was gigantic. What happened if it came down and hit a school in a rural area? What happened if it came down? So I told them as soon as they could shoot it down, shoot it down,” he said. “They made a wise decision. They shot it down over water, they’re recovering most of the parts, and they’re good.”
Beijing, for its part, maintains the unmanned balloon was used to collect meteorological data and has denied it was intended for surveillance, arguing it had crossed into US airspace by accident. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning has accused Washington of waging “information warfare” after US officials claimed China keeps a network of spy balloons over the United States, calling the charge “irresponsible.”
In comments to several media outlets on Thursday, an unnamed senior State Department official asserted that a fleet of Chinese surveillance craft operates “over more than 40 countries across five continents,” adding that the balloons are “clearly for intelligence surveillance.”
READ MORE: Details of Chinese ‘spy balloon’ emerge – WSJ
The balloon that entered the US was “equipped with solar panels large enough to produce the requisite power to operate multiple active intelligence collection sensors,” and its gear was “inconsistent with the equipment onboard weather balloons,” the official continued. Imagery from American U-2 spy planes also purportedly showed that the airship was “capable of conducting signals intelligence collection operations.”
Though China has repeatedly said the craft was a civilian airship, the official claimed its manufacturer “has a direct relationship with China’s military” and is an “approved vendor” of the People’s Liberation Army. However, they did not name the company in question, and declined to cite evidence to support the alleged ties to Beijing’s military.