The Chinese spy balloon that hovered near U.S. missile sites last week was equipped to intercept signals, the Biden administration said Thursday.
The details, the first to be made public from the administration's investigation of the downed balloon, contradicts China's flimsy narrative that the aircraft was a weather balloon that drifted.
A senior State Department official said the balloon had "multiple antennas" that were "capable of collecting and geo-locating communications."
The balloon's multiple sensors were powered by large solar panels, the official said, adding the balloon's manufacturer has "a direct relationship with China’s military."
The Biden administration said vaguely it was weighing "action" against "entities linked to the PLA [People's Liberation Army] that supported the balloon’s incursion into U.S. airspace."
"We will also look at broader efforts to expose and address the PRC’s larger surveillance activities that pose a threat to our national security, and to our allies and partners," the official said.
Despite the concerning new information about the balloon's capabilities, Biden is continuing to talk about the aircraft as if it really were something benign.
The president made the bizarre claim Thursday that China's incursion, which spanned the continental U.S., was nothing "major" and that countries spy on each other all of the time.
“It’s not a major breach. Look, the total amount of intelligence gathering that’s going on by every country around the world is overwhelming," he said.
The balloon was spotted hovering near U.S. missile sites in Montana last week but wasn't shot down until days later off the coast of South Carolina, where an effort to salvage it is ongoing.
"They made a wise decision. They shot it down over water, they're recovering most of the parts, and they're good," he said.
The balloon was first detected in late January near Alaska. Biden and his Democratic allies have claimed the delay was necessary to prevent injury to people on the ground, but Republicans are skeptical.
“It defies belief that there was not a single opportunity to safely shoot down this spy balloon prior to the coast of South Carolina," Republican senator Susan Collins (Me.) said, adding, "This balloon could have been shot down over remote areas in Alaska or our territorial waters surrounding Alaska.”
The House of Representatives voted to condemn China's "brazen violation" of U.S. sovereignty Thursday in a unanimous vote as the White House begins briefing Congress on the incident.
The administration announced Friday that another "high-altitude object" was shot down over Alaska.