US Says It Prevented Chinese Spy Balloon From Doing Much Spying

The Pentagon is playing down a report that the spy balloon gathered electronic data from multiple sites. The FBI is still investigating.
Chinese spy balloon flies above in Charlotte NC, United States on February 04, 2023.
Chinese spy balloon flies above in Charlotte NC, United States on February 04, 2023. (Photo by Peter Zay/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

The Chinese spy balloon that captured the imaginations of Americans and the scorn of the GOP, hovered over U.S. military installations, the Pentagon said Monday, but likely didn’t find much value due to mitigation efforts by the Department of Defense. 

The revelation came as DoD spokesperson Sabrina Singh answered questions at a briefing announcing more U.S. bases in the Philippines in an attempt to counter Chinese influence in the region.


“As we mentioned early on when we first started tracking the balloon, we do know that the balloon was able to be maneuvered and purposely driven along its track, but not going to get into specific sites,” said Singh. “It was able to hover over, but what we did do is take precautionary steps to limit the intelligence value that it would be able to collect.”

NBC News reported this morning that the balloon actually gathered electronic signals intelligence from various sites and that at times it did “figure eight” movements overtop of them, all the while transmitting, in real-time, back to China. Singh played down that report saying the FBI, which is still investigating, couldn’t yet say definitively what China had gathered.

The spy balloon caused a stir when it was spotted floating over Montana in early February after coming down from Canada, then slowly flying towards the Atlantic Ocean where an F-22 fighter jet eventually shot it down off the coast of North Carolina. At the time, President Joe Biden was criticized for not taking the balloon out sooner, but Pentagon officials were clear that the intelligence assessment showed the balloon no longer had any value and had been neutralized. China was steadfast that the balloon was simply a weather instrument and that it wanted it back after it was downed.  


Singh said that the balloon spent time overtop “sensitive sites” but that the Pentagon undertook efforts to devalue whatever that intelligence gathering was. Those “mitigation” operations could’ve been moving equipment or obstructing the view of top secret sites, something that militaries often do to combat satellite imaging of their logistical movements, or prevent their communications from being eavesdropped.

“As of right now, we're still doing an assessment of what exactly the intel was that China was able to gather,” Singh said. “But we do know that the steps that we took provided little additive value for what they've been able to collect on from satellites before.” 

The incident inflamed already tense relations between Washington and Beijing and brought both superpowers into a diplomatic spat that continues. China has been vocal that the U.S. military is increasingly infringing on its sphere of influence in the South China Sea and supporting Taiwan’s government, a major redline for Beijing which considers the country its territory.