WORLD NEWS

Chinese spy balloon used US internet provider to communicate its location

Dec 29, 2023, 2:41 PM

The remnants of a large balloon drift above the Atlantic Ocean, just off the coast of South Carolin...

The remnants of a large balloon drift above the Atlantic Ocean, just off the coast of South Carolina, with a fighter jet and its contrail seen below it, Feb. 4, 2023. (Chad Fish/AP)

(Chad Fish/AP)

(CNN)  US intelligence agencies found that the Chinese surveillance balloon that transited the United States in early 2023 used an American internet service provider to send short, periodic transmissions of data related to navigation and location back to China, according to a US official.

This connection was one of the ways that the US was able to track its location and gather information on the balloon as it transited the United States, the source said.

CNN was not able to identify the internet service provider. CNN has previously reported that officials said the balloon was capable of communicating with Beijing as it traveled across the US.

NBC News first reported that the balloon used a US network to communicate with Beijing.

The network connection was not used to transmit intelligence back to China, according to the official. The balloon stored that information for later, including imagery and other data, which the US has since been able to study after shooting it down in February.

The FBI and the Director of the Office of National Intelligence declined to comment. CNN has reached out to the Chinese Embassy in Washington.

China has continued to maintain that the balloon was a weather balloon that blew off course.

The US assessed at the time that the spy balloon was part of an extensive surveillance program run by the Chinese military, CNN has previously reported. The balloon fleet had conducted at least two dozen missions over at least five continents in recent years, according to US officials.

The US intelligence community believes that Chinese Communist Party leaders did not intend for the balloon to cross over the United States, and even reprimanded the operators of the surveillance program over the incident, CNN previously reported.

President Joe Biden indicated in June that Chinese leader Xi Jinping was caught off guard by the balloon’s whereabouts, telling guests at a political fundraiser that Xi “got very upset” after the US shot down the balloon because “he didn’t know it was there.” He then compared Xi to “dictators” who become embarrassed when they don’t know what’s going on.

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Chinese spy balloon used US internet provider to communicate its location