The State Department on Thursday released details on the Chinese balloon surveillance program to a panel of lawmakers in the Senate.
Information collected by U.S. U-2 spy planes and other sources exposed what was described as a sophisticated effort, directed by the Chinese military, and had flown over more than 40 countries across five continents.
The State Department affirmed that China’s balloon spy operations are carried out by the People’s Liberation Army, or PLA, using technology manufactured by a firm that has a direct relationship with China’s military.
The surveillance balloon had multiple antennas in an array that was “likely capable of collecting and geo-locating communications.” Solar panels on the machine were large enough to produce power to operate “multiple active intelligence collection sensors,” the department said.
Officials say they took steps at nuclear launch sites and other military bases to try to ensure there was no useful information that the balloon could collect. The U.S. government also took steps to protect official communications in the balloon’s path. While officials say they are confident the balloon did not get any sensitive data on U.S. nuclear sites, they are unsure what it did collect.
When asked why the balloon was not taken down over Alaskan airspace, Defense Department officials said there was no apparent hostile intent, and information was gathered by not reacting immediately.
Another factor in deciding where to shoot it down was ease of recovery. Water depth off the coast of the Aleutian Islands goes quickly from 150 feet to more than 18,000 feet, and water temperatures hover just above 30 degrees.
The FBI is examining the remnants of the balloon being collected over the Atlantic Ocean, mostly electronics and small amounts of wiring from the water’s surface. Investigators believe the bulk of the debris is laying on the floor of the ocean, where the FBI described the debris field as large.
If you’re interested, the entire hearing is below.