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Chinese spy balloon

Biden expected to publicly address Chinese spy balloon, unidentified objects on Thursday

President Biden will make public remarks as early as Thursday about the Chinese surveillance balloon and three other objects shot down over the U.S. and Canada in the past two weeks, The Washington Post reports. Biden is also expected to discuss the new guidelines on handling unmanned, unidentified airborne objects the White House is developing. 

The U.S. is still examining debris recovered from what it says was a Chinese spy balloon that a U.S. F-22 shot down off the coast of South Carolina on Feb. 4, and U.S. and Canadian teams are still searching for the remains of three aerial objects shot down over the U.S. and Canada Feb. 10-12. U.S. officials told The New York Times on Wednesday that they now believe the three objects were benign weather or research balloons that had stopped working — floating junk — and the Chinese spy balloon blew off course from its mission to spy on U.S. military installations in Guam and Hawaii.  

The debris recovered from the spy balloon includes an antenna array capable of collecting electronic signals and sending encrypted messages to Chinese satellites, a camera, and a self-destruct mechanism that either malfunctioned or wasn't activated by its Chinese operators, the Times reports. "U.S. officials say Chinese officials likely wanted to avoid activating the mechanism when the balloon was over land, for fear that any injuries or damage it might cause would escalate the crisis quickly. Chinese officials probably also had the ability to deflate the balloon and bring it to the ground, but wanted to try to prevent the Americans from acquiring the surveillance equipment."

U.S. officials are so far unimpressed with what they have discovered about the spy balloon, though they say China's spy balloon program is still in the testing phase, the Times reports. Some analysts speculate that the balloons are meant to supplement China's spy satellites and act as a backup if the satellites are destroyed or malfunction. "They have 260 intelligence satellites in orbit," John Culver, a former U.S. intelligence analyst on China, tells the Times. "This can augment that capability."

And China feels pressure to keep up with the U.S., which "typically flies hundreds, perhaps more than a thousand, reconnaissance aircraft off their coast every year," Culver adds. "They're frustrated they can't fight back. ... This is a program that has political value to them and has wartime value."