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CIA director ‘can’t say’ what Chinese leadership knew about spy balloon

CIA Director William Burns said in an interview aired Sunday he could not be sure whether Chinese leader Xi Jinping and others in China’s top leadership knew about an intelligence-gathering spy balloon that flew across the U.S.

“I don’t know,” Burns told CBS “Face the Nation” moderator Margaret Brennan when asked if Xi knew the balloon would be sent to the U.S. “This is something obviously we watch very carefully. I think the Chinese leadership obviously understood that they had launched this capability, that it was an intelligence platform.”

But while Burns said Chinese leadership knew about the surveillance capabilities it had, he could not say for sure whether they knew how it was being utilized.

“When and what the Chinese leadership knew about the trajectory of this balloon, I honestly can’t say,” Burns said.

The balloon traveled over the continental U.S. over a number of days before being shot down off the coast of South Carolina earlier this month. The government worked to recover the wreckage of the balloon, which Burns said has been able to give the U.S. some insight into its capabilities.

“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 that it was difficult for any intelligence service to be able to crack the thinking and inner workings of an authoritarian leadership structure in any country, saying the U.S. works hard to generate the best intelligence it can from the Chinese government.

“It’s always the hardest question for any intelligence service … in an authoritarian system, where power is consolidated so much in the hands of one man, but it’s something we work very hard at,” Burns said.

Tags China Chinese spy balloon cia Margaret Brennan William Burns Xi Jinping

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