FBI lab to assess what ‘Chinese balloon was capable of,’ says White House

Suspected Chinese air balloon over US airspace   (CHASE DOAK/AFP via Getty Images)
Suspected Chinese air balloon over US airspace (CHASE DOAK/AFP via Getty Images)

The FBI will now assesses the capability of a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon after the US military concluded its recovery effort, the White House has said.

The balloon was shot down off the coast of South Carolina on February 4 but China has denied it was a government surveillance vessel.

John Kirby, national security spokesman for The White House, said the wreckage included “electronics and optics” but declined to say what the US had learned from it so far.

“It’s a significant amount of recovered material, including the payload structure as well as some of the electronics and the optics, and all that’s now at the FBI laboratory in Quantico,” Mr Kirby said.

Mr Kirby said the US had already learned a lot about the balloon by observing it as it flew over the United States, adding: “We’re going to learn even more, we believe, by getting a look at the guts inside it and seeing how it worked and what it was capable of.”

Three other objects were shot down over North America last week.

One was about the size of a small car and was downed over sea ice in Alaska, another was similar in shape but smaller than the Chinese spy balloon brought down over Canada’s Yukon and an octagonal object shot down over Lake Huron.

Northern Command said the decision to end the search for the objects shot down over Alaska and Lake Huron came after the US and Canada “conducted systematic searches of each area using a variety of capabilities, including airborne imagery and sensors, surface sensors and inspections, and subsurface scans, and did not locate debris.”

Air and maritime safety perimeters were also being lifted at both those sites.

The announcements capped three dramatic weeks that saw US fighter jets shoot down four airborne objects — the large Chinese balloon on February 4 and three much smaller objects about a week later over Canada, Alaska and Lake Huron. They are the first known peacetime shootdowns of unauthorised objects in US airspace.

While the military is confident the balloon shot down off South Carolina was a surveillance airship operated by China, the Biden administration has admitted that the three smaller objects were likely civilian-owned balloons that were targeted during the heightened response. .

On Thursday, President Joe Biden directed national security adviser Jake Sullivan to lead an interagency team to establish “sharper rules” to track, monitor and potentially shoot down unknown aerial objects.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Monday said fighter jets are on standby in Britain to be launched within minutes to shoot down Chinese spy balloons if they are flown over the country.

The Prime Minister made clear that the UK would not tolerate such espionage missions after four high altitude objects were blown out the skies by America.

Mr Sunak said: “I want people to know that we will do whatever it takes to keep the country safe.

“We have something called the Quick Reaction Alert Force which involves Typhoon planes which are kept on 24/7 readiness to police our air space.”