Before Chinese Spy Balloon, Classified US Report Highlighted Foreign Aerial Spying
“The classified report to Congress last month discussed at least two incidents of a rival power conducting aerial surveillance with what appeared to be unknown cutting-edge technology, according to U.S. officials.”
While the report did not attribute the incidents to any country, two American officials familiar with the research said the surveillance probably was conducted by China.
The report on what the intelligence agencies call unidentified aerial phenomena focused on several incidents believed to be surveillance. Some of those incidents have involved balloons, while others have involved quadcopter drones…. U.S. defense officials believe China is conducting surveillance of military training grounds and exercises as part of an effort to better understand how America trains its pilots and undertakes complex military operations. The sites where unusual surveillance has occurred include a military base in the United States and a base overseas, officials said. The classified report mentioned Naval Air Station Fallon in Nevada and Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Japan as sites where foreign surveillance was believed to have occurred, but did not explicitly say China had been behind the actions, a U.S. official said.
Since 2021, the Pentagon has examined 366 incidents that were initially unexplained and said 163 were balloons. A handful of those incidents involved advanced surveillance balloons, according to a U.S. official, but none of them were conducting persistent reconnaissance of the U.S. military bases. (However, spy balloons that the U.S. government immediately identifies are not included in the unidentified aerial phenomenon tracking, according to two U.S. officials.) Because spy balloons are relatively basic collection devices and other balloons have not lingered long over U.S. territory, they previously have not generated much concern with the Pentagon or intelligence agencies, according to two officials.
The surveillance incidents involving advanced technology and described in the classified report were potentially more troubling, involving behaviors and characteristics that could not be explained. Officials said that further investigation was needed but that the incidents could potentially indicate the use of technology that was not fully understood or publicly identified. Of the 171 reports that have not been attributed to balloons, drones or airborne trash, some “appear to have demonstrated unusual flight characteristics or performance capabilities, and require further analysis.”
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