U.S. not confirming reports Chinese spy balloon sent real-time data to Beijing

Click to play video: 'CIA unclear on what Chinese spy balloon picked up: Face the Nation'
CIA unclear on what Chinese spy balloon picked up: Face the Nation
WATCH: CIA unclear on what Chinese spy balloon picked up: Face the Nation – Feb 26, 2023

U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration said on Monday it could not confirm reports that China was able to collect real-time data from a spy balloon as it flew over sensitive military sites earlier this year, saying analysis was still ongoing.

NBC News on Monday reported that the Chinese balloon was able to transmit data back to Beijing in real time despite the U.S. government’s efforts to prevent it from doing so — a disclosure that could deepen Republican criticism of Biden for waiting for the balloon to reach a safe location before shooting it down.

NBC cited two current senior U.S. officials and one former senior administration official.

Click to play video: 'Chinese spy balloon’s flight path over Canada revealed by defence officials'
Chinese spy balloon’s flight path over Canada revealed by defence officials

The White House and the Pentagon told reporters that they could not confirm that account. The Pentagon said experts were still analyzing debris collected from the balloon after it was shot down on Feb. 4.

Story continues below advertisement

“I could not confirm that there was real-time transmission from the balloon back to (China) at this time,” said Pentagon spokesperson Sabrina Singh, adding, “that’s something we’re analyzing right now.”

The Chinese Foreign Ministry in Beijing and the Chinese Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to Reuters’ request for comment.

Click to play video: 'China slams US response to balloon intrusion as ‘malicious hype’'
China slams US response to balloon intrusion as ‘malicious hype’

The balloon, which Beijing denies was a government spy vessel, spent a week flying over the United States and Canada before the U.S. military shot it down off the Atlantic Coast on Biden’s orders.

Canadian officials have not disclosed whether the balloon may have gathered any data from military bases near its flight path over western provinces. Defence Minister Anita Anand and senior military leaders have said U.S. agencies including the FBI and CIA are leading the investigation into what, if any, information was collected.

Story continues below advertisement
A map demonstrating an approximation of the Chinese spy balloon’s path over Canada based on the description given by defence officials. Global News

Reuters has reported that the U.S. officials believe the high-altitude balloon was controlled by Beijing and was able to maneuver as it flew over the United States, at times steering left or right.

Still, at the time, U.S. officials played down the balloon’s impact on national security, saying it took measures to limit its ability to collect information on sensitive U.S. sites. It also played down the idea that the balloon was much more capable of collecting information than Chinese spy satellites, while acknowledging the balloon’s ability to loiter longer over U.S. locations than a satellite.

The Chinese balloon incident prompted U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to postpone a planned visit to Beijing and further strained relations between Washington and Beijing.

Click to play video: 'U.S. recovers key sensors from suspected Chinese spy balloon'
U.S. recovers key sensors from suspected Chinese spy balloon

The episode caused an uproar in Washington and led the U.S. military to search the skies for other objects that were not being captured on radar.

Story continues below advertisement

The FBI has taken the lead in analysis since the United States said on Feb. 17 it had successfully concluded recovery efforts off South Carolina to collect sensors and other debris from the suspected Chinese surveillance balloon.

—With additional files from Global News

Sponsored content