In this photo provided by Chad Fish, the remains of a large balloon float over the Atlantic Ocean just off the coast of South Carolina on February 4, 2023, with a fighter jet and its contrail visible below. A Chinese reconnaissance balloon with missiles from an F-22 fighter jet created a spectacle over one of the state’s tourist hubs, with crowds reacting with a mix of puzzled stares, anguish and cheers. (Chad Fisch, via AP, File)
A Chinese surveillance balloon that passed over the United States in early 2023 was using a U.S. internet service provider to transmit navigation and location-related data to China in short, periodic intervals, U.S. officials said. It was discovered by US intelligence agencies.
The connection was one way the U.S. could track the balloon’s location and gather information about it as it passed through the United States, the official said.
CNN was unable to identify the internet service provider. CNN previously reported that officials said the balloon was able to communicate with the Chinese government while flying across the United States.
NBC News first reported that the balloon used U.S. networks to communicate with the Chinese government.
The network connection was not used to send information to China, the official said. The balloon stores information, including images and other data, which the United States was able to study after shooting it down in February.
The FBI and the Director of National Intelligence declined to comment. CNN has contacted the Chinese embassy in Washington.
China continues to maintain that the balloon was a weather balloon that was blown off course.
The US assessed at the time that the reconnaissance balloon was part of a broader surveillance program by the Chinese military, CNN previously reported. The balloon fleet has flown at least 20 missions on at least five continents in recent years, U.S. officials said.
US intelligence agencies believe Chinese Communist Party leaders never intended the balloon to fly over the United States and have reprimanded the operators of the surveillance program over the incident, CNN previously reported.
President Joe Biden suggested in June that Chinese President Xi Jinping was caught off guard by the balloon’s fate, telling attendees at a political fundraiser that after the U.S. shot down the balloon, Xi said, “I was very upset because I didn’t know balloons existed,” he said. ” He also likened Mr. Xi to a “dictator” who gets confused when he doesn’t understand what’s going on.