Top Intelligence Committee Democrat: ‘We’ll learn a lot’ from downed Chinese balloon

Rep. Jim Himes (Conn.), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said on Monday that the U.S. will “learn a lot” from the Chinese surveillance balloon shot down by the military over the weekend.

“There’s a lot of value in observing an asset like this. What did we learn by watching this thing over a period of time? When were the decisions taken? And most interestingly, what are we going to learn about the equipment, right? Who made the semiconductors that are on this thing? What are its capabilities?” Himes said on “CNN This Morning.”

“That’s one of the elements that is being lost in this whole conversation, you know, being able to capture, hopefully undamaged … what should be their cutting-edge surveillance technology is just a huge intelligence win,” Himes said.

President Biden ordered the military to down the balloon on Saturday after the aircraft spent days traveling through U.S. airspace.

China has said the aircraft was a civilian weather balloon blown off course, but a top U.S. defense official said Sunday that the balloon was “clearly crossing over sensitive sites” during the flyover, particularly looking to monitor sensitive military areas.

The balloon crashed down from 60,000 feet off the coast of the Carolinas. Authorities recovered some of the wreckage and have warned civilians not to touch any additional debris that may wash ashore.

Defense officials say the material recovered from the balloon refutes China’s claim that it was civilian tech and is “of intelligence value” to the U.S. in learning more about Beijing and its surveillance operations.

“We have learned technical things about this balloon and its surveillance capabilities.  And I suspect if we are successful in recovering aspects of the debris, we will learn even more,” a defense official said.

The Gang of Eight — a group consisting of House and Senate leadership plus the top lawmakers from both chambers’ intelligence committees — is set to receive a briefing on the balloon from the Biden administration as soon as Tuesday.

Senators are set to be briefed on the downed balloon next week.

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