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Chinese Surveillance Balloons Global in Scope, Says Official

When President Joe Biden came into office, he directed the U.S. intelligence community to do a broad assessment of Chinese intelligence capabilities, said John Kirby, coordinator for strategic communications at the National Security Council in the White House, speaking to the media today.

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"We were able to determine that China has a high-altitude balloon program for intelligence collection that's connected to the People's Liberation Army. It was operating during the previous administration, but they did not detect it. We detected it. We tracked it. And, we have been carefully studying it to learn as much as we can," he said.

"We know that these [Chinese] surveillance balloons have crossed over dozens of countries on multiple continents around the world, including some of our closest allies and partners," he added.

The U.S. is consulting with allies and partners on the challenge of identifying aerial phenomenon, he said. The president has directed the secretary of state, secretary of defense and the director of national intelligence to engage with their relevant counterparts to share information and to try to gain their perspectives as well, Kirby said. Today, the president, through his national security adviser, has directed an interagency team to study the broader policy implications for detection, analysis and disposition of unidentified aerial objects that pose either safety or security risks, he said.

"Every element of the government will redouble their efforts to understand and mitigate these events," Kirby added.

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Efforts by Canada and the U.S. continue in recovering remnants of aerial objects shot down by fighter jets over the last several days, as well as the Chinese surveillance balloon downed on Feb. 4.

The objects in Alaska and Canada are in remote and wintry terrain, making the salvage operations difficult and the object shot down yesterday is probably in very deep water in Lake Huron, he said.

All of the operations to bring down the balloon were conducted in a safe and successful manner, he noted.

Slow-moving, high-altitude objects, even as large as the Chinese spy balloon, which was the size of three school buses, are difficult to track by radar, Kirby said, adding that tracking methods by North American Aerospace Defense Command radar are improving.

Also, the administration will continue to brief members of Congress and relevant state governors on what is being learned from salvage efforts, he said.

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