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China could in the future equip their surveillance balloons with carrying explosives or even “biochemical weapons”, a national security lawyer warned. US officials have said the debris of the suspected spy balloon will be reviewed to check whether it carried explosives and to assess what information it had stored during its long journey over the northern US. Irina Tsukerman told the remnants are unlikely to shed any light into whether the balloon could autodestruct but noted tech advances signalled Beijing would likely be able to include malign technology in future aircraft.

Tsukerman said: “As far as China goes, while they have not used the balloons to carry out physical attacks, they have incorporated innovation in much of their technology so it is certainly possible that a ‘spy balloon’ could in the future contain explosives, biochemical weapons that could be disseminated, or self-destruction technology.

“Unfortunately, because this balloon was significantly damaged by a missile and may have also been further damaged by the waters, it may be more difficult to analyze its current capabilities.”

The national security lawyer, who founded the security strategic advisory Scarab Rising, Inc, noted that regardless of the debate sweeping through the United States China appeared to have achieved its goals.

She continued: “It is important to note, however, that in this incident, the message from China may have been political as much as intelligence related.

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“While it’s likely that the balloon was scoping out sensitive sites or testing ground for future interference or distribution of materials – whether a drop of propaganda, chemicals damaging to the soil, a new virus, or explosives – the reaction of Beijing to this affair and the absolutely incredible excuses provided for it indicates that at least part of the plan of sending a major piece of technology with no coordination with the local officials was to test US reaction, and to project power.

“With respect to the political aspects of this situation, Beijing appears to have gotten what it wanted.”

Before Monday, US officials had said that at least three times during the Trump administration and at least one other time during Biden’s time as president balloons have crossed American airspace, but not for this long.

Head of US Northern Command Gen. Glen VanHerck, Head of US Northern Command said that in those instances, Washington had determined the balloons belonged to China only after they had left US airspace

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The Pentagon said Tuesday that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin requested a secure call with his Chinese counterpart Wei Fenghe, on Saturday after the balloon was shot down.

Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, the Pentagon press secretary, said Beijing had declined the request.

He said: “Lines between our militaries are particularly important in moments like this. … Our commitment to open lines of communication will continue.”

China has denied the balloon was engaging in surveillance and accused Washington of “escalating” the situation by shooting the “civilian” aircraft down.

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