U.S. intelligence officials say the downed Chinese spy balloon is part of an extensive surveillance program run by the Chinese military, according to multiple American officials familiar with the intelligence.
Officials told CNN that the surveillance program run from the Chinese province of Hainan has conducted at least two dozen missions over at least five continents in recent years.
About half a dozen of those flights have been within U.S. airspace, although not necessarily over U.S. territory, an official told CNN.
Not all of the balloons have been the same model as the one shot down off the coast of South Carolina on Saturday.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken postponed a diplomatic trip to China because of the balloon incident, as relations between the U.S. and China have worsened.
FBI engineers are examining the remnants of the recovered balloon, deciphering the intelligence, and determining how best to track surveillance balloons in the future, CNN reported.
The engineers want to understand the balloon's technical capabilities, including what kind of data it could intercept and gather, what satellites it was linked to, and if it has vulnerabilities the U.S. might be able to exploit.
The goal is to determine if the airship could transmit data it collected in real-time to the Chinese military or if the device contained "stored collection" that China would later analyze after the device was eventually recovered.
The intelligence gathering will depend on the balloon's condition. It's unclear how damaged it was after being shot down.
China said it was a weather balloon that accidentally drifted off course. Officials have acknowledged that this type of balloon has only limited steering capabilities and largely rode the jet stream.
But multiple defense officials and other sources briefed on the intelligence say the Chinese explanation isn't credible and have described the balloon's path as intentional, CNN reported.
Intelligence officials will want to see if the equipment on the Chinese balloon bears any technical resemblance to technology constructed by the U.S., as the Chinese government has long been aggressive in stealing American defense secrets.
Gen. Glen VanHerck, commander of U.S. Northern Command, said the U.S. had a "domain awareness gap" that had allowed balloons to cross into U.S. airspace undetected in the past.
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