Chinese Spy Balloon Gathered Intel From Sensitive US Weapons Systems - Report

The suspected Chinese spy balloon which was shot down by a US F-22 fighter jet on February 4, was able to gather intelligence from several sensitive American military sites, despite the administrations efforts to block it from doing so, a media report said citing informed officials.

"China was able to control the balloon so it could make multiple passes over some of the sites (at times flying figure-eight formations) and transmit the information it collected back to Beijing in real time," quoting the officials, the NBC report said on Monday.

Electronic Signals

"The intelligence China collected was mostly from electronic signals, which can be picked up from weapons systems or include communications from base personnel, rather than images."

Chinese spy balloon
The Chinese spy balloon seen disintegrating in a white puff after being hit by a US Air Force missile Twitter

The suspected spy balloon, which US defence officials first announced of tracking on February 2, was shot down two days later.

Officials waited until the "strange object" was safely over water before shooting it down.

The balloon was retrieved off the coast of Myrtle Beach in South Carolina on February 5.

The officials told NBC News that China could have gathered much more intelligence from sensitive sites if not for the administration's efforts to move around potential targets and obscure the balloon's ability to pick up their electronic signals by stopping them from broadcasting or emitting signals.

At his daily press briefing on Monday, National Security Council spokesperson Kirby John declined to comment on what kind of electronic signals or communications the balloon could have accessed.

Diplomatic Crisis

"Knowing it was going to enter US airspace we took action to limit the ability of this balloon to garner anything of additive or especially useful content," said Kirby.

"So again, I won't get ahead of what we're learning off this thing."

Chinese balloon
The Chinese spy balloon seen bursting and falling after being shot down by the US Airforce Twitter

The discovery of the balloon had set off a diplomatic crisis, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken immediately calling off a scheduled trip to China -- which would have been the first such high level meeting between the two sides in years.

China however, admitted ownership of the balloon, saying it was used for flight tests and had "seriously deviated" from its flight course "by mistake".

Also on Monday, Department of Defense spokesperson Sabrina Singh told reporters that the FBI was still examining the balloon debris, the BBC reported.

"We do know that the balloon was able to be manoeuvred and purposely driven along its track," Singh said but declined to give details of which military installations the balloon was able to hover over.

"We're still doing an assessment of what the intel was that China was able to gather but we do know that the steps that we took provided little additive value to what they've been able to collect on from satellites before," she added.