Espionage expert warns ‘China spying in ways you wouldn’t believe’

China defends claims that US ‘spy balloon’ was a ‘weather balloon’

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An espionage expert has warned China is “spying on you in ways you wouldn’t believe” as he urged to take the Chinese balloon case seriously. US officials said on Monday that improvements ordered by President Joe Biden to strengthen defences against Chinese espionage helped to identify last week’s spy balloon — and to determine that similar flights were conducted at multiple points during the Trump administration.

Though the balloon was not a “serious attempt at intelligence-gathering”, Professor Michael Clarke said: “I would be amazed if the Chinese got any sensible intelligence material from the silver 200ft-tall balloon as it drifted across North America.

“First the Canadians and then the US flew their planes directly under the ­balloon and would have jammed any information it was trying to send and may well have downloaded it for Western intelligence agencies.

“But while their balloon adventure was not a spying success — and social media was alight with gags (was this the plot of Top Gun 3? many chuckled) — we should not dismiss it as a joke.”

Writing in The Sun, he added: “China is taking espionage to a completely new level — they are spying on an industrial scale in ways that we have never seen before.”

He continued: “China uses all the traditional espionage that the Russians and every other country uses, including the old-fashioned methods, like honey traps or finding different ways of compromising people.

“But they have added a totally new dimension to that, which I call “societal intelligence”, where their whole society can be mobilised to spy on our whole society.

“Chinese investment is too deeply embedded in our economy — and China is taking advantage of it.

“And while we may have banned Huawei from any involvement in our 5G network from 2027, other Chinese tech firms remain active in many other areas.”

This week White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said that after Biden took office, the US “enhanced our surveillance of our territorial airspace, we enhanced our capacity to be able to detect things that the Trump administration was unable to detect”.

Biden, in turn, has been faulted by some Republicans for not ordering the balloon shot down before it made its way across the US. Officials have said there was concern about damage to people on the ground, and Biden addressed the issue on Monday.

Biden said: “Once it came over to the United States, from Canada, I told the Defence Department I wanted to shoot it down as soon as it was appropriate.”

He said the military concluded “we should not shoot it down over land, it was not a serious threat”.

In a brief exchange with reporters, Biden expressed his continued displeasure with Beijing. Asked why China launched the balloon over the US, he replied simply: “Because they’re the Chinese.”

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Biden administration officials have planned a classified briefing for all senators on Thursday to discuss the spy balloon situation, according to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s office.

Sullivan, speaking at an event hosted by the US Global Leadership Coalition, said as part of the surveillance improvements since Biden took office, “we were able to go back and look at the historical patterns” and uncover “multiple instances” during the Trump administration in which Chinese surveillance balloons traversed American airspace and territory.

Several Trump administration officials have have said they did not learn of Chinese spy balloons during their tenures.

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