- The FBI detailed its role in investigating the Chinese spy balloon that was downed by a U.S. military jet last week.
- Much of the evidence from the airship remains underwater in the Atlantic Ocean.
- The FBI is responsible for investigating counterintelligence threats, and the balloon was believed to be carrying an electronics payload.
- The balloon's maker has ties to the Chinese military, a State Department official.
"It's very early for us to assess what the intent was and how the device was operating," a senior FBI official told reporters in a briefing Thursday, according to NBC News.
"We have literally not seen the payload, which is where we would expect to see the lion's share of the electronics," the official said.
Other evidence that has been recovered from the very large debris field has been taken to the FBI lab in Quantico, Virginia, where it is being decontaminated by removing saltwater.
"It's very early for us in this process and the evidence that has been recovered and brought to the FBI is extremely limited, this is evidence that was only present on the surface," said a senior FBI official, NBC reported.
"So only a very few items. We can probably characterize that into three types of items, one is the balloon or the canopy itself, some wiring, and then some a very small amount of electronics," that official said.
While noting that the FBI is not in possession of a large portion of the evidence believed to be on the ocean floor, an official said, "To date we have not identified any sort of any energetic or offensive material."
Officials said the FBI, which has never before investigated a balloon of this type, first became involved in the probe of the airship on Feb. 1 when it was spotted flying over the United States. FBI agents and officials were at the scene near Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, when the balloon was shot down four days later.
The FBI is responsible for investigating counterintelligence threats, and the balloon was believed to be carrying an electronics payload.
A senior State Department official on Thursday said that the balloon, which flew over the U.S. for eight days, had multiple antennas that were capable of collecting so-called signals intelligence. The balloon's maker also has ties to the Chinese military, the official said.
Also Thursday, four Pentagon officials were grilled by angry members of a Senate panel about not firing on the balloon for days after becoming aware of it.
"I don't want a damn balloon going over the United States when we could've taken it down over the Aleutian Islands," said Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., chairman of the Appropriations Committee.
A senior FBI official said the search and recovery area for the balloon "is a large-scale scene," according to NBC.
"Much of the evidence remains underwater, and we are coordinating with the U.S. Navy and the Coast Guard in the collection of that evidence to include dive team experts that we have the FBI, as well as U.S Navy divers," the official said.
The official said it "takes a long time" to identify and stabilize the evidence underwater, transport it to the surface, and then move it to a harbor for transportation to Quantico.
That effort could take even longer due to potential issues with weather in coming days, the official said.
China has claimed that the balloon was a civilian airship that blew off course, and that it was collecting data on weather.
U.S. officials have scoffed at that claim.
Biden administration officials said the balloon was latest of five Chinese spy balloons that are known to have crossed into U.S. airspace. The U.S. believes that more than 40 other countries have had incursions of their own airspaces by Chinese balloons.