Whatever happened to … the investigations into the Chinese spy balloon

It has been more than five months since the Chinese spy balloon was shot down off the coast of South Carolina. Since then, the FBI has been the main government agency looking into the espionage device. Other agencies, including the Defense Intelligence Agency and the Pentagon, are assisting with that probe. 

Defense officials recently said the balloon did not collect information in real time as it flew across the U.S.

‘We were aware that it had intelligence collection capabilities,’ Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said. ‘We also took steps to mitigate the potential collection efforts of that balloon.’

A senior Pentagon source told Fox News the device held specialized Chinese sensors. It also contained publicly available American-made equipment. The U.S. has export controls in place to prevent China from accessing its more sensitive technology.

‘The (People’s Republic of China) officials continue to object quite strongly to the export controls that we have imposed to prevent the transfer of sensitive U.S. technology to China,’ State Department spokesperson Matt Miller said. ‘We’re not going to allow you to take U.S. technology and use it against us.’

The Defense Intelligence Agency has been examining the military-related equipment within the device. The DIA told Fox News its analysis is still ongoing. It also pointed us to its report on China’s military power, which notes that China’s military equipment is ‘primarily domestic systems heavily influenced by technology derived from other countries.’

President Biden told reporters in June that China may not have been fully aware of the spy balloon’s whereabouts.

‘I think it was more embarrassing than it was intentional,’ President Biden said. ‘I don’t think the leadership knew where it was, knew what it was in it and what was going on.’

The DIA report also details China’s investment in developing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance equipment and how it uses those devices to deceive its adversaries.

According to the document, ‘The (People’s Liberation Army) uses military deception to reduce the effectiveness of adversaries’ reconnaissance and to deceive adversaries about the PLA’s warfighting intentions, actions, or major targets.’

The DIA often makes certain reports public that explain how adversaries spy on the U.S. The Wall Street Journal reported the agency was among other parts of the military that supported displaying the balloon debris publicly. Biden administration officials have pushed back on any public release.

‘I wouldn’t expect that we’re going to lay all that out for the public. This was an espionage piece of equipment. And we want to get a better handle on it, understand it for our own national security purposes,’ National Security Council Coordinator John Kirby told reporters in May.

The State Department deferred to the FBI for any public release. When asked for an update to its investigation, the FBI responded with Director Christopher Wray’s comments from his February Fox News interview and said it had nothing else to add.

‘Our technical folks, our lab folks, our counterintelligence folks who specialize in Chinese spying are working hand in hand with our military and other government partners to analyze all the debris. And that work is ongoing,’ Wray said in that interview. ‘This balloon thing is just one piece of a much broader threat.’

The FBI had no updates on the three smaller objects shot down over Alaska, Lake Huron and Canada’s Yukon Territory. Officials initially suspected they were likely research or recreational balloons. Search efforts for those ended soon after they began as U.S. and Canadian authorities announced that no debris was located.

‘What looks embarrassing is that we shot down some toys, it seems,’ Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., said.

Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., and Sen Ted Budd, R-N.C., are hoping to pass legislation that would mandate tracking systems for high-altitude weather and research balloons.

‘The problem we face right now is, weather balloons, kid’s science experiments, universities have put up science payloads,’ Kelly said. ‘We’re going to have a way where we can identify it and track it because there’s enough of these things that we can’t be scrambling an F-22 to potentially shoot it down on a weekly basis.’

Congress has also pledged to hold China accountable and is questioning why the U.S. government didn’t detect the objects sooner. Secretary of State Antony Blinken recently met with Chinese officials in Beijing. His initial trip had been canceled over the spy balloon incident. He told NBC News relations with China have since stabilized so long as its spy balloons stay grounded.

‘We did what we needed to do to protect our interests,’ Blinken said. ‘We said what we needed to say and made clear what we needed to make clear in terms of this not happening again. And, so, as long as it doesn’t, that chapter should be closed.’

Some lawmakers want to keep that book open and have grown frustrated with the lack of information provided by the Biden administration.

‘There are a lot of questions left unanswered,’ Wicker said. ‘What does it say about our preparedness? What does it say about how seriously we take threats from China?’

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