National Security

Leaked documents show officials were aware of additional Chinese spy balloons: report

U.S. officials knew about additional Chinese spy balloons beyond the one that traveled across the United States in January and February, according to a report from The Washington Post.

The Post reported on Friday that the intelligence community also continued to have questions about the balloon after shooting it down in the Atlantic Ocean as it had sensors and antennas that the government had not identified more than a week after. 

The reporting was based on documents that the Post obtained from the classified documents leaked online recently that shared a wide range of U.S. intelligence and national security information. The suspected leaker, a member of the Massachusetts Air National Guard, was arrested in connection with the leak on Thursday and charged with violating the Espionage Act. 

The Post reported that the balloon that was shot down was one of at least three that intelligence agencies know of. One of the other two flew over a U.S. carrier strike group in the Pacific Ocean and the other crashed in the South China Sea, according to a top-secret document. 

The document did not mention launch dates for the balloons. 

Intelligence agencies refer to the balloon that traveled across the country before being shot down as Killeen-23. The documents the Post reviewed also mention balloons referred to as Bulger-21 and Accardo-21, but they do not make clear if these are the ones that flew over the carrier and crashed into the sea, respectively. 

A document produced by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) states that Bulger-21 carried surveillance equipment while circumnavigating the world from December 2021 to May 2022. Accardo-21 carried similar equipment and a “foil-lined gimbaled” sensor. 

The document includes an image that seems to connect Bulger-21 to one of six Chinese companies that the U.S. sanctioned in February for supporting the Chinese government’s spy balloon program, the Post reported. 

It states that Killeen-23 contained a parabolic dish, multiple unidentified sensors and a possible mast antenna, but the government does not have any “imagery collections of the bottom of the Killeen-23 payload to analyze for an optical sensor.” 

Another document states that Killeen-23’s entry into U.S. airspace likely surprised parts of the Chinese government, as information about the incident was “heavily stovepiped” in the Chinese military. 

The Defense Department and Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to comment to the Post on the report. 

Republicans criticized the Biden administration over its delay in shooting down the balloon from February, arguing that it allowed China to continue spying on the U.S. The administration has said it took steps to limit the balloon’s capabilities while flying and wanted to avoid potentially harming anyone on the ground with falling debris. 

But NBC reported earlier this month that the balloon was still able to gather some intelligence from sensitive military sites despite the administration’s efforts to block it.

Tags Chinese spy balloon classified documents Classified documents leak

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