WASHINGTON (CNN): The Pentagon has stated that the Chinese surveillance balloon, which flew over the United States earlier this year before being shot down, did not gather intelligence during its flight over the country. According to Pentagon spokesperson Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, the actions taken by the US government to prevent potential information gathering contributed to this outcome.
The balloon was intercepted by an American fighter jet off the coast of South Carolina on February 4, after crossing the continental US and passing over sensitive military sites. This incident further strained the already tense relations between Washington and Beijing, significantly hampering communication between the two nations at that time.
The US subsequently linked the balloon to an extensive surveillance program operated by the Chinese military, with President Joe Biden alleging that it carried significant spy equipment. China, however, claimed that the balloon was a civilian research airship that had accidentally drifted off course. China expressed “regret” over the incident, which led to the postponement of a planned trip by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to Beijing. The trip eventually took place more than four months later.
At the time, Washington indicated that the balloon posed a limited intelligence gathering risk. Although the recovered parts of the balloon have undergone extensive investigation, including assessing their capabilities and whether any gathered information was transmitted back to China in real-time, the Pentagon did not provide specific details regarding recent reports suggesting the use of US surveillance technology in the Chinese balloon.
Brig. Gen. Ryder acknowledged that it would not be surprising if off-the-shelf, commercial US components were used in such a situation, citing previous cases involving drones and other capabilities.
The incident involving the surveillance balloon continues to strain relations between the US and China. However, both sides have expressed a desire to move past the communication pause that followed the incident. President Biden’s recent comments at a political fundraiser, where he mentioned Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s reaction to the balloon incident, further heightened tensions between the two nations. China denounced the remarks as an “open political provocation” and reiterated their denial that the balloon was intended for spying on the United States.