Defense Department analyzing possible spy balloon discovered off Alaskan coast

The Defense Department is analyzing a balloon discovered by fishermen off the coast of Alaska last week to determine whether it was a spy balloon, a spokesperson told CNN.

The balloon is currently at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska, said department spokesperson Sue Gough.

“We do not know why the balloon was in the waters off the coast of Alaska nor are we going to characterize it at this time, but hope to learn more about the balloon’s origin and purpose after further analysis of the materiel, which will be conducted by multiple agencies,” Gough said.

Wednesday’s statement from the Defense Department is the first public acknowledgement that the debris found was a balloon.

CNN had previously reported last week that commercial fishermen off the coast of Alaska had alerted law enforcement that they had found a suspicious object. Upon reviewing photographs taken by the fishermen, officials became concerned it could be another spy balloon, and FBI agents went to meet the boat when it returned to port.

At the time, it wasn’t clear exactly what the object was and officials weren’t sure if it was a balloon at all. But the FBI determined that it was similar enough in appearance to a foreign government-owned surveillance balloon that it warranted further investigation.

The existence of high-altitude surveillance balloons burst into US consciousness last year, when a Chinese spy balloon appeared to blow off course and transited across the continental US. That balloon entered US territory through Alaskan airspace.

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

China appeared to suspend the program following the episode, and it’s not clear whether it has been restarted. Taiwan in January accused Beijing of flying multiple balloons through its airspace.

The Biden administration ultimately shot down the balloon that flew over the US last February.

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