Biden admin sought FISA order to surveil Chinese spy balloon as it moved across US while downplaying significance: report

It was revealed earlier in December that the Biden administration had "the intention to study it and let it pass over and not ever tell anyone about it," a former administration official said.

Hannah Nightingale Washington DC

A new report has revealed that the Biden administration sought a court order through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) to collect intelligence on the Chinese spy balloon that traversed US airspace in early 2023. 

The balloon made use of US internet service providers to navigate, and the Biden administration wanted access to the information on the balloon from those service providers. Though the administration sought the court order, they downplayed the balloon publicly.

According to NBC News, current and former US officials said that the admin sought the highly secretive order through the court, which was created through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, to collect intelligence while the balloon was over the US.

The order would have allowed US intelligence agencies to conduct electronic surveillance on the balloon as it sent and received messages to and from China during its path across the US, the officials said. It is unclear how the court ruled.

This would have included communications sent through an American internet service provider, to which the balloon connected to send and receive messages to its home country. 

Officials told the outlet that the connection allowed the balloon to send burst transmissions, or high-bandwidth collections of data over short periods of time.

It was revealed earlier in December that the Biden administration had "the intention to study it and let it pass over and not ever tell anyone about it," a former administration official said.

A previously unreported phone call on Jan. 27 between Air Force Gen. Glen VanHerck and Gen. Mark Milley revealed there was an eight-day-long fiasco within the Biden White House over what to do with the balloon. 

Soon after the phone call the US military confirmed that it was a Chinese spy balloon outfitted with surveillance equipment.

Biden was informed only on Jan. 31, several days after the balloon had been spotted and confirmed to be coming from China. Soon thereafter, media reports broke about the balloon seen over Montana on Feb. 2. 

China has continued to maintain that the spy balloon was a weather balloon that was blown off course, with Liu Pengyu, a spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, telling NBC News on Thursday, "As we had made it clear before, the airship, used for meteorological research, unintentionally drifted into US because of the westerlies and its limited self-steering capability."

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