Top-secret intelligence documents allegedly leaked by Massachusetts Air National Guardsman Jack Teixeira reveal that U.S. intelligence agencies were aware of up to four more Chinese spy balloons in addition to the one that flew over the country earlier this year.
One balloon flew over a U.S. carrier strike group, another, code named Bulger-21 by U.S. officials, circumnavigated the Earth from Dec 2021 until May 2022, a third named Accardo-21 is also mentioned in the documents and a fourth is said to have crashed in the South China sea.
The documents also identify the balloon that crossed the continental U.S. in January and February before being shot down off the coast of South Carolina was code-named Killeen-23.
A US official told the Washington Post that the naming convention for such balloons is alphabetical, which suggests there may be even more incidents of Chinese spy balloons being identified that were not leaked.
Top-secret intelligence documents allegedly leaked by Massachusetts Air National Guardsman Jack Teixeira (pictured) reveal that U.S. intelligence agencies were aware of up to four more Chinese spy balloons in addition to the one that flew over the country earlier this year
One balloon flew over a U.S. carrier strike group, another, code named Bulger-21 by U.S. officials, circumnavigated the Earth from Dec 2021 until May 2022, a third named Accardo-21 is also mentioned in the documents and a fourth is said to have crashed in the South China sea
The documents also identify the balloon that crossed the continental U.S. in January and February before being shot down off the coast of South Carolina was code-named Killeen-23
It also appears that the balloons were named after notorious criminals, including Tony Accardo, James ‘Whitey’ Bulger, and Donald Killeen but the reason behind this remains unclear.
Reportedly hundreds of documents were allegedly shared by Teixeira on a private Discord group with the name Thug Shaker Central.
The most recent documents reveal that the U.S. government was yet to identify the purpose of sensors and antennas on the craft more than a week after it was shot down Feb 4.
The downed balloon was also revealed to carry sophisticated reconnaissance capabilities, including radar that could see at night and penetrate clouds, topsoil and other thin materials, according to one document produced by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency on Feb. 15.
Intelligence officials also determined that the craft’s solar panels could generate 10,000 watts of power, enough to power any type of surveillance capability.
The leaked documents also show that Bulger-21 also carried sophisticated surveillance equipment as it circumnavigated the globe, as did Accardo-21.
Bulger-21 is assessed to have been engineered by Eagles Men Aviation Science and Technology Group – a Chinese company sanctioned by the US in the wake of the Feb balloon scandal.
The documents also note that the Chinese government were likely not expecting the balloon to fly into U.S. airspace.
China’s military has operated a vast surveillance balloon project for several years, partly out of Hainan province off China’s south coast, U.S. officials told The Washington Post.
Earlier this month, it was revealed that Killeen-23 had gathered intelligence from several American military sites before it was shot down, according to two senior US officials and a former senior administration official.
The sources said China could have gathered more intelligence if not for the Biden administration’s efforts to block it.
The balloon entered US airspace on 28 January and was shot down on 4 February after passing over US nuclear missile sites, including the Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana.
The intel collected was mostly from electronic signals, rather than images, the officials told NBC.
China previously claimed that the balloon was a civilian weather balloon that strayed off course. The foreign ministry condemned its shooting down as an ‘overreaction’.
China was reportedly able to control the balloon as it passed over the same site in figures of eights. This allowed it to transmit information in real time, the officials warned.
A US official said that the naming convention for such balloons is alphabetical, which suggests there may be even more incidents of Chinese spy balloons being identified that were not leaked. Pictured is Killeen-23 in Feb
The documents also note that the Chinese government were likely not expecting the balloon to fly into U.S. airspace
The downed balloon (pictured) was also revealed to carry sophisticated reconnaissance capabilities, including radar that could see at night and penetrate clouds, topsoil and other thin materials, according to one document produced by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency on Feb. 15
Information collected from electronic signals can be picked up from weapons systems or communications between personnel on the base.
The balloon, which Beijing previously denied was a government spy vessel, launched from southern China in late January.
It then drifted east and entered US airspace over Alaska on 28 January and was tracked as it flew over Malmstrom Air Force base in Montana, where nuclear assets are stored.
President Joe Biden was briefed two days later and elected to shoot it down over the Atlantic on 4 February, a week after it entered the US.
Biden had reportedly called for the balloon to be shot down ‘ASAP’ on 8 February, but was advised to wait by the US military.
It was able to cross the continent before it was shot down over the ocean for safety.
American jets monitored the object as it passed over the country.
On 4 February, the Air Force sent an F-22 fighter jet armed with an AIM-9X Sidewinder missile to take the balloon down over water.
Sailors were later assigned to recover the balloon from the Atlantic Ocean and are still analysing it.
The balloon was found to have a self-destruct mechanism that could have been activated remotely from China.
The Biden administration at the time downplayed the seriousness of the spy balloon.
The President told Telemundo on 9 February: ‘It’s not a major breach. Look, the total amount of intelligence gathering that’s going on by every country around the world is overwhelming.’
He did say that the flight of the balloon was a ‘violation of international law.’
The new information on the balloons comes from documents allegedly leaked by Teixeira who faced a Massachusetts court for the first time on Friday.
The 21-year-old has been charged with unlawfully copying and transmitting classified defense records.
Teixeira, 21-year-old National Guard member, was arrested by FBI officials on April 13 for allegedly leaking classified US intelligence documents relating to the war in Ukraine
Airman Teixeira is enlisted in the 102nd Intelligence Wing of the Massachusetts Air National Guard at Otis Air National Guard Base
CNN broadcast aerial footage of Teixeira’s arrest after he was named by the New York Times earlier on Thursday
According to an affidavit unsealed Friday, an FBI agent said Teixeira had held a top-secret security clearance since 2021 and that he also maintained sensitive compartmented access to other highly classified programs.
The 21-year-old is a member of the National Guard and was arrested by FBI officials on Thursday for posting pictures of between 50 and 100 classified US documents online.
Teixeira was a member of the intelligence wing of the Massachusetts Air National Guard and unofficial leader of an online group called ‘Thug Shaker Central’ – within which he circulated the documents, many of which related to the war in Ukraine.
Teixeira was among the eldest in the group of mainly young men and teenagers, who were keen on gaming, guns and right-wing memes. He went by the name ‘Jack the dripper’ and was referred to as ‘OG’ by other members.
Airman Teixeira is enlisted in the 102nd Intelligence Wing of the Massachusetts Air National Guard at Otis Air National Guard Base.
His official job title is Cyber Transport Systems journeyman. The Air Force says such specialists ensure that the service’s ‘vast, global communications network’ works properly.
He joined the service in September 2019 and was promoted to airman first class in July. Despite serving in a junior position, he had the highest level of access to top secret US government information.
Recently, his mother told the New York Times, he had been working night shifts and an air base on Cape Cod.
Certain members who spoke to The Times said the documents they discussed online were meant to be purely informative and that they took no side in the war.
The leaked documents however only gained proper traction when they were reposted into another Discord group, dedicated to a 20-year-old British college student and YouTuber known as Wow Mao.
Teixeira was first identified as the suspected leaker by the New York Times, which claims it confirmed a connection after matching the countertop in his kitchen to the surface on which photos of the leaked documents were taken.
Two members of the chat room described Teixeira to the The Washington Post on Wednesday night.
‘He’s fit. He’s strong. He’s armed. He’s trained. Just about everything you can expect out of some sort of crazy movie,’ one of the members said.
He described him as ‘a young, charismatic man who loves nature, God, shooting guns and racing cars.’
Amid an intense search for the source of the leaks, The Washington Post reported they had seen video and photos of the man, as well as recordings of his interactions with members of the group.
In a video seen by The Washington Post, the man is seen at a shooting range with a large rifle, wearing safety glasses and ear coverings. The man looks into the camera and yells racists and anti-Semitic insults, then fires multiple rounds at a target.
The inside of Teixeira’s childhood home in Bristol, Massachusetts, matched photos of the sensitive files on US intelligence and the Ukraine war which have been shared on forums since the end of last year, according to the Times
One of the leaked documents, which have been posted online, that sparked a FBI hunt for the source and a criminal investigation
This document appears to show the state of Ukraine’s air defenses in February and in May, when it is anticipated they’ll be badly depleted
News helicopter footage was broadcast of his arrest on Thursday and showed the suspect in red shorts, with his hands behind his back, being placed by heavily-armed agents into an unmarked SUV.
The FBI said in a statement that its officers are ‘continuing to conduct authorized law enforcement activity at the residence’ where he was arrested.
Brandon Van Grack, a former Justice Department national security prosecutor now with the law firm Morrison Foerster, said the likely charges could carry up to 10 years’ imprisonment, even if Teixeira did not intend to cause harm.
‘I think this is someone who is facing on the higher end of exposure for years in prison because the leaks were so damaging,’ Van Grack said.
His arrest came after President Joe Biden said during the third day of his Ireland trip that investigators were ‘getting closer’ to finding out the source.
Biden also said he wasn’t ‘concerned’ about the sharing of the documents that threatened to risk American assets around the world because the information is not ‘contemporaneous’
The intelligence included in the files have included information suggesting Ukraine will soon run out of artillery and potentially risking U.S. intelligence sources around the world.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin warned that rules on access to classified documents could be tightened as a result of the leak.
He said he would ‘not hesitate to take any additional measures necessary to safeguard our nation’s secrets.’
‘Every US service member, (Department of Defense) civilian and contractor with access to classified information has a solemn legal and moral obligation to safeguard it and to report any suspicious activity or behavior,’ he said.
Pentagon spokesman Brigadier General Pat Ryder went further than Austin, calling the leak of classified information a ‘deliberate, criminal act.’
And hours after Teixeira’s arrest, Mike Turner, the Republican congressman who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, vowed to ‘examine why this happened, why it went unnoticed for weeks, and how to prevent future leaks.’