Get all your news in one place.
100’s of premium titles.
One app.
Start reading
Daily Mirror
Daily Mirror
Ryan Fahey

Chinese spy balloons have likely spied on UK and 'would have been shot down too'

Chinese satellites have likely spied on the UK and would have been "shot down" just as they have been recently in the US, the Defence Secretary has warned.

The Biden administration says the Chinese balloon shot down over the US last week had been fitted with specialist surveillance equipment capable of collecting intelligence signals.

The balloon is part of an enormous aerial programme linked to Beijing's military and has targeted over 40 countries, the administration added.

Yesterday, the UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said it was highly likely that a similar balloon may have floated over Britain, collecting information from below.

Mr Wallace said it was “not unusual” for satellites to soar through UK skies, adding that they have done so for years.

FBI Special Agents process material recovered from the Chinese high-altitude balloon recovered off the coast of South Carolina (Fbi/UPI/REX/Shutterstock)

He told The Sun: “Is it the case that a Chinese satellite has probably circled Britain and looked at us?

“I should think yes.’”

It comes after the Biden administration said the People's Liberation Army has a fleet of balloons designed to gather sensitive data from targets across the globe. Similar aircraft have sailed over five continents, the administration said.

A statement from a senior State Department official offered the most detail to date linking China's military to the balloon that was shot down by the US last weekend over the Atlantic Ocean.

The public details outlining the program's scope and capabilities were meant to refute China's persistent denials that the balloon was used for spying, including a claim Thursday that US accusations about the balloon amount to "information warfare."

President Joe Biden defended the US action.

Balloons have floated over more than 40 countries, the US says (Tyler Thompson/U S Navy/UPI/REX/Shutterstock)

And, asked in an interview with Spanish language Telemundo Noticias whether the balloon episode represented a major security breach, he said it did not.

"Look, the total amount of intelligence gathering that's going on by every country around the world is overwhelming," he said.

"Anyway, it's not a major breach. I mean, look ... it's a violation of international law. It's our airspace. And once it comes into our space, we can do what we want with it."

On Capitol Hill, the House voted unanimously to condemn China for a "brazen violation" of US sovereignty and efforts to "deceive the international community through false claims about its intelligence collection campaigns."

Republicans have criticized Biden for not acting sooner to down the balloon, but both parties' lawmakers came together on the vote, 419-0.

In Beijing, before the US offered its new information, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning repeated her nation's insistence that the large unmanned balloon was a civilian meteorological airship that had blown off course and that the US had "overreacted" by shooting it down.

UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace speaking in Rome yesterday (Getty Images)

"It is irresponsible," Mao said. The latest accusations, she said, "may be part of the US side's information warfare against China."

Underscoring the tensions, China's defense minister refused to take a phone call from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to discuss the balloon issue on Saturday, the Pentagon said. Secretary of State Antony Blinken canceled a planned weekend trip to Beijing.

The U.S. flatly contradicted China's version of events, saying that imagery of the balloon collected by American U-2 spy planes as it crossed the country showed that it was "capable of conducting signals intelligence collection" with multiple antennas and other equipment designed to upload sensitive information and solar panels to power them.

Jedidiah Royal, the US assistant defense secretary for the Indo-Pacific, told a Senate Appropriations subcommittee that the military has "some very good guesses" about what intelligence China was seeking. More information was expected to be provided in a classified setting.

A sailor conducts a search for debris with an underwater vehicle during recovery efforts of the Chinese high-altitude balloon (Ryan Seelbach/U S Navy/UPI/REX/Shutterstock)

Senior FBI officials who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the bureau said just a few pieces of the balloon had arrived at the FBI's Quantico, Virginia, lab for investigation.

So far, investigators have parts of the balloon canopy, wiring, and what one official called "a very small amount of electronics." The official said it was "very early for us to assess what the intent was and how the device was operating."

According to two US officials, the balloon recovery efforts were temporarily suspended on Thursday due to high seas.

They said some balloon debris was intact on the ocean floor and divers had recovered potentially high-value equipment over the past day and a half.

Another official said that some of the recovered equipment components had English writing or markings on them but it wasn't clear if they were American parts or from another English speaking country. The official said the more highly technical parts recovered did not have any overt markings.

Much of the debris is concentrated in two separate sections of an area 15 football fields long and 15 fields across, according to the officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the collection process.

The State Department official, providing details to reporters by email, also on condition of anonymity, said an analysis of the balloon debris was "inconsistent" with China's explanation that it was a weather balloon that went off course. The US is reaching out to countries that have also been targeted, the official said.

State Department spokesman Ned Price would not identify the other countries the US says have also been targeted. Nor would he reveal how the US knows there have been Chinese incursions over those countries' territory, saying to do so could compromise intelligence sources and methods.

Sign up to read this article
Read news from 100’s of titles, curated specifically for you.
Already a member? Sign in here
Related Stories
Top stories on inkl right now
Our Picks
Fourteen days free
Download the app
One app. One membership.
100+ trusted global sources.