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US Recovered Possible Spying Equipment From Downed Chinese Balloon

The U.S. said Monday it has recovered key intelligence-collecting sensors from the Chinese spy balloon downed in the Atlantic Ocean on Feb. 4, Reuters reported.

For nine days, the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard have worked to pull debris from the craft — both the balloon portion and the surveillance equipment that was described as roughly the size of three school buses — from shallow waters off the coast of South Carolina. The U.S. military shot down the balloon, which the Department of Defense (DOD) is confident serves as a Chinese surveillance tool, on Feb. 4 after it transited much of North America and hovered over “sensitive sites,” officials said.

“Crews have been able to recover significant debris from the site, including all of the priority sensor and electronics pieces identified as well as large sections of the structure,” the U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) said in a statement, according to Reuters.

After equipment is extracted from the ocean, the FBI is responsible for analyzing the equipment to discover its purpose and capabilities. The balloon’s “payload,” or the actual surveillance portion carrying possible photography and sensing equipment, broke apart at some point, an official told CBS News.

U.S. officials have indicated with confidence that the balloon, first disclosed to the public on Feb. 2, belonged to the People’s Republic of China and was being used to spy on the U.S. as component of a broader Chinese intelligence campaign. However, they have declined to connect the latest incidents to the first spy balloon, which was much larger and traveling at higher altitudes, consistent with previous balloon sightings.

The U.S. shot down an object over Alaska on Friday, one in Canadian airspace on Saturday and another on Sunday that splashed down in Lake Huron.

“What we’re seeing is very, very small objects that produce a very, very low radar cross-section,” Gen. Glen VanHerck, commander of North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and NORTHCOM, told reporters Sunday night. That’s distinct from the spy balloon and makes the object more difficult for pilots whizzing through the sky to spot.

The first missile fired at the object over Lake Huron missed, requiring a second shot, an official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

The U.S. has yet to recover debris from the other three unknown objects downed over the weekend after penetrating North American airspace, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said after touching down in Brussels for a regular North American Treaty Organization (NATO) meeting on Ukraine aid.

“As we have said, we do not assess that the recent objects pose any direct threat to the people on the ground and we will continue to focus on confirming their nature and purpose,” Austin said.

“We don’t know if they were actually collecting intelligence,” he continued. The U.S. military recommended they be removed from the skies “out of an abundance of caution” to protect commercial traffic in U.S. airspace and prevent the possibility of adversaries gathering information on U.S. military sites. “We want to make sure that we have the ability to examine what these things are and potentially what they were doing.”

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