American officials said Thursday the Chinese balloon that the U.S. shot down recently was equipped to collect intelligence signals. And the airship was part of a military-linked surveillance program that targeted more than 40 countries.
The U.S. State Department said its information comes from images collected by American U-2 spy planes. It said the program operates under the direction of the People’s Liberation Army (or PLA) and is used for spying.
The balloons involved contain high-technology equipment designed to gather information from targets across the world. Similar balloons have flown over five continents, the U.S. said.
The statement from a top State Department official offered additional details linking China’s military to the balloon the U.S. shot down last weekend over the Atlantic Ocean. The public details about the program were meant to answer China’s claim that the airships were weather balloons.
In Beijing, before the U.S. offered its new information, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning repeated the claim that the balloon shot down by the U.S. was a civilian weather balloon. She said it had blown off course and that the U.S. had “overreacted.”
“It is irresponsible,” Mao said. The latest accusations, she said, “may be part of the U.S. side’s information warfare against China.”
The U.S. rejected China’s version of events. It said that photos of the balloon collected by American U-2 spy planes as the balloon crossed the country showed that it was “capable of conducting signals intelligence collection.” The airship had several antennas and other equipment designed to upload sensitive information and solar panels to power the equipment.
Top Federal Bureau of Investigation officials told reporters that just a few pieces of the balloon had arrived at the FBI’s laboratory in Quantico, Virginia. So far, investigators have parts of the balloon and what one official called “a very small amount of electronics.” The official said it was “very early for us to assess what the intent was and how the device was operating.”
The State Department official told reporters by email that a study of the balloon wreckage was “inconsistent,” or did not agree, with China’s explanation.
The official said the U.S. is talking to other countries that were targeted to discuss the Chinese surveillance program. The official said the U.S. is looking into possible action that “supported the balloon’s incursion into U.S. airspace.”
The official said the U.S. believes that the manufacturer of the balloon shot down on Saturday has “a direct relationship with China’s military and is an approved” supplier of the army. The official noted information from an official PLA document as evidence of the connection between the company and the military.
I’m Mario Ritter, Jr.
Matthew Lee and Eric Tucker reported this story for the Associated Press. Hai Do adapted it for VOA Learning English.
Words in This Story
continent –n. one of the major landmasses on Earth
conduct –v. to carry out
antenna –n. a long piece of metal that is used to send or receive radio or television signals
assess –v. to make a judgement about something
intent –n. the aim or purpose of an action
incursion –n. a sudden invasion or attack
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