C.I.A dDirector William Burns could not say whether Chinese President Xi Jinping or other Chinese leaders were aware that a surveillance balloon would fly over the United States for several days.
While Burns is convinced the Chinese leadership knew the balloon program existed, he said in an interview Sunday on CBS News’ Face the Nation that they may not have known how it was being used.
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“I don’t know,” the director said when asked if Xi knew the balloon would be sent to the U.S. “This is obviously something we watch very carefully. I think the Chinese leadership obviously understood that they had launched this capability, which was an intelligence platform.”
The balloon entered US airspace until January 28 and was shot down on February 4 by US fighter jets. Three more objects were shot down over eight days after the balloon was shot down, but the original balloon was the only object found with links to the Chinese.
The trajectory of the balloon indicated that the balloon was hovering over the most sensitive places in the United States, according to Representative Mike Truner (R-OH), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Turner and several defense officials have said China appeared to be seeking data on “command and control of US nuclear weapons and missile defense systems.”
“When and what the Chinese leaders knew about the trajectory of this balloon, I honestly cannot say,” Burns said.
The CIA director said it is difficult for any intelligence service to get into the thinking methods of authoritarian leaders in any foreign county, but the US is doing the best intelligence gathering it can.
“It’s always the most difficult question for any intelligence service … in an authoritarian system, where power is so consolidated in the hands of one man, but it’s something we work a lot on,” he said. said Burns.
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The Pentagon last week released images of the balloon taken by a US spy plane on February 3 at an estimated height of 60,000 feet. Most of the balloon’s remains were recovered after being shot down off the coast of South Carolina.
“A lot of materials from the platform that that balloon was carrying, it was clearly an intelligence platform … I think we’ll be able to develop a pretty clear picture of exactly what its capabilities were,” Burns said.