Henley: NAS Fallon a target of Chinese aerial spying, says classified report

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Three weeks before the recent downing of a massive high-altitude Chinese espionage balloon by a U.S. Air Force F-22 fighter jet, a classified military intelligence report was delivered to Congress that outlined incidents of Chinese aerial spying over Naval Air Station Fallon.

The Fallon air base was the only U.S. military installation in the continental United States that was named in the classified document. A second base, Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni near Hiroshima, Japan, also was cited in the military intelligence report, according to a New York Times article headlined “Classified U.S. Report Highlights Foreign Power Aerial Spying With Advanced Tech” that was published before the downing of the Chinese balloon in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of South Carolina.

The Times story detailed occurrences of aerial spying over NAS Fallon as “cutting edge advanced Chinese aerial technology to spy on the United States,” reported the newspaper. That technology also has included the use of drones, according to the Times. Because of deadline requirements, I have been unable to discover if Nevada’s six members of Congress, its two senators and four House members, have read the full classified report and, if so, are permitted by military intelligence censors to comment on it publicly.

The Chinese balloon, which traveled thousands of miles across the U.S. before it was shot down by a single Sidewinder missile launched by the USAF F-22 “Raptor” fighter, was the first of several balloons sent aloft by the Chinese over the U.S. and Canada in recent days. The latter balloons were much smaller than the craft downed over the Atlantic, and all of the balloons, large and small, were unmanned. The smaller balloons are believed to have been tied to Chinese non-military recreational, research and scientific activities, but these balloons, like the huge balloon shot down in the Atlantic, also were downed by U.S. military aircraft because it was feared they were hazards to North American commercial air traffic. These smaller balloons were shot down over Alaska’s northern coastline, Canada’s Yukon territory, Canada’s northern coast and over Michigan’s Upper Peninsula of Lake Huron.

The Biden administration stated that the large balloon, which is about the size of three buses, was part of a “vast military espionage program” that China has launched over more than 40 countries, including the U.S., on five continents. U.S. officials have denied China’s claims that its balloon shot down in the Atlantic was a civilian aircraft conducting weather research that accidentally strayed into U.S. airspace. The Los Angeles Times carried a story which said the Chinese aerial spying balloon that has conducted aerial reconnaissance over NAS Fallon “was part of a fleet equipped with high-tech equipment and an array of antennae capable of eavesdropping and collecting signals intelligence.” The balloon also had solar panels for sustained power.

U.S. intelligence officers “were able to make these determinations upon declassifying high-resolution imagery from flybys made by U-2 spy planes,” according to the newspaper. “The high altitude balloon’s equipment was clearly for intelligence, surveillance and inconsistent with the equipment onboard weather balloons” a senior State Department official said in a statement. “We know these balloons are all part of a Peoples Republic of China fleet of balloons developed to conduct surveillance observations, he stated, adding that “the balloons are almost certainly the work of China’s military, the People’s Liberation Army,” said the State Department official who maintained anonymity in order to discuss intelligence matters.

U.S. defense officials believe China is conducting surveillance of military training grounds and exercises, such as those found at NAS Fallon, as part of an effort to better understand how America trains its pilots and undertakes complex military operations. The two sites “where unusual surveillance has occurred” are NAS Fallon and the Marine Corps base in Japan, said the New York Times. Some former and current U.S. military officials have warned against underestimating the advanced surveillance technology that could be embedded in the Chinese spy balloon. Pentagon officials say the belly section of the huge balloon houses surveillance equipment in an area about 90 feet long, or equivalent to three school buses.

Meanwhile, at an international security conference held four days ago in Munich, Secretary of State Anthony J. Blinken raised the issue of China’s spy balloons flying over the U.S. with China’s Foreign Secretary Wang Yi. The meeting didn’t go well, with Wang Yi insisting the enormous balloon shot down in the Atlantic was an off-course Chinese weather research craft. Blinken countered that it was conducting surveillance over sensitive military installations at an altitude of about 60,000 feet in violation of U.S. sovereignty and international law. The United States and China will undoubtedly remain at each other’s throats for years to come.

David C. Henley is publisher emeritus of the Lahontan Valley News and Fallon Eagle-Standard.


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