This was according to intelligence officials, who condemned President Joe Biden's administration for claiming that the balloon's transmission was blocked in time. "The device was clearly controlled, in some cases making multiple passes – even figure eights – over sensitive sites," one former and two current senior U.S. officials said, adding that China was able to collect data in real-time.
"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," the officials said. (Related: "Spy balloons" are part of global Chinese surveillance, US military and national security officials say.)
A Department of Defense spokesperson disputed the claims on Monday, April 10, saying any data collected had "limited additive value" for China. National Security Council (UNSC) spokesperson John Kirby, meanwhile, declined to answer questions the same day about what kind of electronic signals or communications the balloon could have accessed.
"Knowing it was going to enter U.S. airspace we took action to limit the ability of this balloon to garner anything of additive or especially useful content," Kirby said. "So again, I won't get ahead of what we're learning off this thing."
Members of Congress have also blasted the administration's false narrative, saying that the story "not only insulted Americans, but it also risked national security by lulling policymakers into thinking little had been spied on for several weeks."
"It went over military bases collecting information, which we all knew was collecting information. And they're like 'Nothing to worry about here or see here,'" said Rep. Greg Steube (R-Fla.), an Army veteran who served on the House Ways and Means Committee. He added that even Democrats were wondering why the balloon was not shut down at once.
Fred Fleitz, former UNSC chief of staff, said career intelligence experts never believed the Biden administration's initial account, but it went unchallenged in the news media for weeks.
"It's so amusing because the administration said it was a spy balloon, but claimed it didn't do any spying. Now, as an intelligence officer, I knew that couldn't be true," Fleitz told the "John Solomon Reports" podcast. "Then they had this ridiculous claim that was, 'We let the spy balloon fly across the United States because we wanted to spy on the spy balloon.' I knew that wasn't true, either."
Amid the intel that the spy balloon was from China, a spokeswoman from the country's Foreign Ministry insisted that Beijing did not own it.
When pressed to talk about reports that the aircraft was able to gather intelligence, Mao Ning insisted that the balloon was "civilian" owned.
"We have made it clear time and again that the unmanned Chinese civilian airship drifting over the U.S. was a purely unexpected and isolated event caused by force majeure," Mao said. "China firmly rejects distortion, hyping up, and political manipulation of this unexpected and isolated event."
When asked to name the company that owns the "civilian" balloon, Mao dodged the question. "China has made it clear multiple times that the unmanned airship is a civilian airship used for meteorological and other research purposes," she said. "I have nothing more to add."
U.S. officials said the balloon had a self-destruct mechanism that could have been activated remotely by China, but it was not clear if that didn't happen because the mechanism malfunctioned or because China decided not to trigger it.
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Watch the video below where Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre struggled to answer journalist Peter Doocy's clarification on the CCP spy balloon controversy.
This video is from the Red Voice Media channel on Brighteon.com.