New images show Chinese spy balloons over Asia


The BBC's Panorama program has uncovered new information regarding China's spy balloon program, including flights over Japan and Taiwan.

Japan acknowledged that balloons had flown over its territory and made clear that it was ready to shoot them down going forward.

The BBC's evidence has not been directly addressed by China.   .

An alleged Chinese spy balloon was shot down off the US coast earlier this year, causing tension between the US and China.

China asserted that the balloon seen over the northwest US in late January was a civilian airship used for scientific research, including meteorology, and that it was an unintended and isolated incident.

This "had been not just a one-off, but a continuing effort dating back at least five years," John Culver, a former East Asia analyst for the CIA, said on Panorama. He claimed that the Chinese balloons were "specially designed for these long-range missions" and that some had "apparently circled the earth.".

US Navy recover the debris of a high-altitude surveillance balloon off the coast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Feb. 5, 2023.
In the North Atlantic in February 2023, US Navy personnel recover the remains of a possible spy balloon.

The BBC has discovered numerous images of balloons crossing East Asia after collaborating with Synthetaic, a company that uses artificial intelligence to sift through vast amounts of data collected by satellites.

Early in September 2021, the company's founder, Corey Jaskolski, discovered proof of one balloon crossing northern Japan. These pictures have never been released before.     .

The evidence, in Mr. Jaskolski's opinion, suggests that this balloon was launched from a remote region of China, south of Mongolia. A confirmation by the BBC has not been possible.

Since Japan is a close ally of the US, there are more American military personnel stationed there than anywhere else in the world.

Satellite image of suspected spy balloon over Japan
spy balloon over Japan as seen on a satellite image.

In order to protect the "lives and property of people in the territory of Japan," the government would even be willing to shoot down balloons, according to Yuko Murakami from the Japanese ministry of defense, who told the BBC that the government was "taking all precautions to monitor the situation on a daily basis.".

According to the US State Department, the Chinese balloons are outfitted to gather signals intelligence. According to the report, the aircraft it found flying over the US had "multiple antennas, probably capable of collecting and geolocating communications.".

The Panorama team initially combed social media and local press reports for reports of UFO sightings in order to determine whether China had launched additional balloons.

Two images that appeared to show a balloon over Taiwan's capital, Taipei, in late September 2021 were discovered to have been taken by the country's weather service.

After that, Mr. Jaskolski cross-referenced them using satellite imagery. He claims, "Within 90 seconds, we located the balloon off the coast of Taiwan.".   .

Is China Observing You?

Panorama looks into China's extensive global surveillance system, including spy balloons, hidden police stations, and fugitive dissidents. We provide updated information regarding Beijing's fleet of spy balloons and hack a Chinese-made security camera to demonstrate how similar devices that are installed throughout our cities can be misused.

Monday, June 26, at 20:00 (or 20:30 in Wales), and afterwards, watch on BBC One. (UK only) on BBC iPlayer.

Mr. Jakolski disputes the assertion made by the Taiwanese government to Panorama that it was a weather balloon.

"That looks an awful lot like the balloon that flew over the United States, over Japan," he says, citing the balloon's diameter and the similarity of the operating altitudes.

China has long had its eyes on Taiwan, which is governed democratically.

The Chinese military practiced a large-scale attack last year.

The US would defend Taiwan if China attacked, according to US Vice President Joe Biden.

Corey Jaskolski began by drawing a representation of how the balloon might appear from space. He then entered this outline and some approximations of the last seen location into his AI software.

To determine the balloon's origin and trace its path, he also examined wind model simulations.

Corey used RAIC (rapid automatic image categorization), a program he developed, to locate the balloons using satellite images provided by the business Planet Labs.

Larger than several buses, surveillance balloons are equipped with high-tech equipment that can gather a lot of data on targets below.

However, when seen through the eyes of a satellite in orbit, they merely appear to be tiny white blobs.

Satellite image of balloon
Corey Jaskolski used satellite images like this one to determine the balloon's route.

According to Mr. Jaskolski's research, the balloon that passed over the US in February was once about 130 kilometers (80 miles) from a nuclear air force base in the state of Montana.

A flight path back to the balloon's most likely launch location, Hainan Island in the South China Sea, was also charted by him.

He says, "It appears that there was cloud cover on the launch.". And to reduce the likelihood of being discovered, if I were going to launch a balloon, I would have done so on a cloudy day. " .

The Chinese Embassy in London accused the US of setting off a large number of high-altitude balloons that have been continuously circling the globe and violating Chinese airspace.

China is a responsible nation, it was claimed, always acting "in strict compliance with international law and respecting all countries' sovereignty and territorial integrity.". The statement continued by rejecting "unfounded allegations to denigrate and attack China."

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