Suspected spy balloon found off Alaska

The suspected Chinese spy balloon drifts to the ocean after being shot down off the coast of South Carolina in February, 2023
The suspected Chinese spy balloon drifts to the ocean after being shot down off the coast of South Carolina in February, 2023 - Randall HIll/Reuters

A suspected spy balloon has been found by fishermen off the coast of Alaska, according to reports.

The commercial crew is expected to hand over the object to FBI agents for analysis when they dock over the weekend.

After discovering the object, the fishermen sent photographs to officials who found it shared enough similarities with foreign surveillance balloons to be investigated, three sources told CNN.

Although it is not clear what the object is, if it does turn out to be a foreign-owned spy balloon it could worsen already-frosty international relations between the US and its rivals.

It comes one year after a Chinese spy balloon was shot down by a US fighter jet off the coast of South Carolina.

That balloon entered the US from Alaskan air space and crossed above sensitive military bases before being taken down by an F-22 Raptor.

It was later revealed to have been part of an extensive surveillance programme run by Beijing.

Intelligence officials found the balloon had used a US internet service provider to send short, periodic transmissions of data related to navigation and location back to China, sources claimed at the time.

The Pentagon later said while the balloon had “intelligence collection capabilities”, it did not collect sensitive information while flying over the US.

At the time, China claimed the balloon was being used for weather-related issues. The discovery further strained  an already fragile relationship between Beijing and Washington.

The US military did not initially shoot it down due to the risk of it landing on a populated area. It was downed off the Atlantic Coast on the orders of Joe Biden.

Republicans lambasted Mr Biden for not shooting it down earlier. It led to the US military searching the skies for other objects that were not being captured on radar and could be a national security threat.

It also prompted the US to improve its radar systems to better detect objects travelling above a certain altitude.

Last week a small balloon was intercepted above Utah. The North American Aerospace Defence Command said in a statement that the object was “likely a hobby balloon” that posed no national security threat.

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