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U.S. recovers debris of Chinese balloon, forgoes other searches

The United States said on Friday it had successfully concluded recovery efforts off South Carolina to collect sensors and other debris from a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon shot down by a U.S. fighter jet on February 4, and investigators are now analyzing its “guts.”

U.S. shoots down suspected Chinese spy balloon

The United States shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon as it floated off the country’s southeastern coast on Saturday, witnesses and U.S….

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The U.S. military has said it believes it has collected all of the Chinese balloon’s priority sensors and electronics as well as large sections of its structure, elements that could help counterintelligence officials determine how Beijing may have been collecting and transmitting surveillance information.

U.S. military completes recovery of Chinese balloon, now analyzing its 'guts'

— Reuters (@Reuters) February 18, 2023

However, U.S. and Canadian authorities also announced they had called off searches for three unidentified objects shot down over last weekend, without locating any debris.

President Joe Biden said this week the U.S. intelligence community believed the other three objects were most likely balloons tied to private companies, recreation or research institutions – not China’s spy program.

The last of the debris from the Chinese balloon, which was downed by a Sidewinder missile, will be analyzed at an FBI laboratory in Virginia, the U.S. military’s Northern Command said.

“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,” said National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby.

He added that the United States had already learned a lot about the balloon by observing it as it flew over the United States.

“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,” Kirby told a White House news briefing.

Aerial objects have recently been taken down by U.S. military aircraft. Watch as National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby provides an update:

— The White House (@WhiteHouse) February 16, 2023

The U.S. military said Navy and Coast Guard vessels that had been scouring the sea for nearly two weeks have departed the area.

Search abandoned for other objects

The balloon, which Beijing denies was a government spy vessel, spent a week flying over the United States and Canada before being shot down off the Atlantic Coast on Biden’s orders.
The episode caused an uproar in Washington and led the U.S. military to search the skies for other objects that were not being captured on radar.

Northern Command carried out an unprecedented three shootdowns of unidentified “objects” between last Friday and Sunday. Late on Friday, it said search operations for the two objects shot down in U.S. airspace – one over Alaska and the other over Lake Huron – had concluded, having “discovered no debris.”

“The U.S. 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,” it said.

The third object was shot down over Canada’s Yukon. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police said in a statement on Friday that it had also decided to end search efforts.

“Given the snowfall that has occurred, the decreasing probability the object will be found and the current belief the object is not tied to a scenario that justifies extraordinary search efforts, the RCMP is terminating the search,” it said in a statement.

Strained U.S.-China relations

The Chinese balloon incident prompted U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to postpone a planned visit this month to Beijing and has further strained relations between Washington and Beijing.

That Blinken trip would have been the first by a U.S. secretary of state to China in five years and was seen by both sides as an opportunity to stabilize increasingly fraught ties.

U.S. officials have since been looking at the possibility of a meeting between Blinken and China’s top diplomat Wang Yi on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference that began on Friday.

Vice President Kamala Harris, who is in Munich for the conference, defended the administration’s handling of the balloon incident and the shooting down of the three other objects.

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