US begins ‘gut’ analysis of Chinese balloon and says ‘no debris’ recovered from two downed objects

The White House claims the balloon was unable to pick up any useful intelligence (Chad Fish)

The “guts” of the Chinese “spy” balloon shot down in American airspace and at the heart of recent surveillance concerns are being analysed by the US.

The military concluded efforts to collect sensors and other debris from the Chinese balloon on Friday as investigators from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have begun investigating its inner workings.

The shooting down of the balloon has provoked a war of words between the US and China, who already share strained ties, and given rise to surveillance concerns in the US.

The US military also shot down three unidentified “objects” found over Canada, Alaska and Lake Huron last weekend, in the aftermath of the balloon incident.

“It’s a significant amount [of recovered material], including the payload structure as well as some of the electronics and the optics, and all that’s now at the FBI laboratory in Quantico,” National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said on Friday.

“We’re going to learn even more, we believe, by getting a look at the guts inside it and seeing how it worked and what it was capable of,” he told a White House briefing.

The military said the last pieces of debris recovered from the downed Chinese balloon are being transferred to the FBI Laboratory in Virginia for “counterintelligence exploitation.”

In a separate statement on the same day, the US Northern Command pointed out that it “did not locate” any debris from two of the three “objects” it had shot down near Deadhorse, Alaska, and over Lake Huron and said it had called off the search for those objects as well.

“The US military, federal agencies, and Canadian partners conducted systematic searches of each area using a variety of capabilities, including airborne imagery and sensors, surface sensors and inspections, and subsurface scans, and did not locate debris,” said the statement.

“US Northern Command recommended that search operations conclude today near Deadhorse, Alaska, and on Lake Huron, as search activities have discovered no debris from airborne objects shot down on Feb. 10 and Feb. 12, 2023,” it said.

While the US military is confident the suspected surveillance balloon shot down off South Carolina was of Chinese origin, the other three smaller objects were likely civilian-owned balloons, Reuters reported.

These announcements come following three dramatic weeks in the US that have led to several questions, including if and what intelligence the Chinese balloon could collect as it flew over sensitive US military sites, and whether it could transmit data back to China.

Earlier on Thursday, US president Joe Biden called for an interagency team to develop “sharper rules” for tracking, monitoring and shooting down unknown aerial objects in US airspace.

Such unidentified objects have reportedly been spotted earlier over the western Pacific US territory of Guam, a strategic hub for the country’s Navy and Air Force.