Chinese Spy Balloon Had Maneuvering Ability and Similarities to Google AI Balloon Project: Ex-DoD Official

Chinese Spy Balloon Had Maneuvering Ability and Similarities to Google AI Balloon Project: Ex-DoD Official
A sailor assigned to Explosive Ordinance Disposal Group 2 conducts a search for debris with an underwater vehicle during recovery efforts of a Chinese spy balloon in the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Myrtle Beach, S.C., on Feb. 7, 2023. (Ryan Seelbach/U.S. Navy via AP)
Tiffany Meier
Venus Upadhayaya

The Chinese spy balloon had maneuvering capability and had similarities to the Google balloon project Loon, which utilized AI analytics in its operations, according to Col. (Ret.) John Mills, an author and former director of cybersecurity policy, strategy, and international affairs at the Department of Defense.

"What's very interesting is in 2012, I was at Google and Google briefed me on Project Loon, their balloon project. And they use their advanced AI and analytics to raise and lower the balloon and they could maintain the position of a balloon by raising and lowering it. And they could also maneuver it," Mills said in an interview recorded on Feb. 9 on China in Focus, a show on NTD TV, The Epoch Times’ sister media.

He said throughout the "spy balloon" episode that the Department of Defense has very clearly said that the Chinese balloon had maneuvering capability.

The Chinese regime maintained that it was a runaway weather balloon, but the U.S. administration has refuted such claims.

"This was a PRC surveillance balloon. This surveillance balloon purposely traversed the United States and Canada, and we are confident it was seeking to monitor sensitive military sites," said a senior defense official speaking on background in a statement on Feb. 4, indicating that the balloon could steer itself over the United States.

Mills said that when Google briefed him about the Loon project a decade ago, he was struck by its similarities with the CIA balloon projects of the past.

"This looks a lot like the CIA project from the 50s and 60s. It was called by about 10 different code names—Skyhook, AshCan [etc.]. The Google Project Manager ... had left NASA and was working for Google, goes, 'Yes, we actually FOA'd [Freedom of Information Act] CIA, and they gave us all the plans," said Mills.

Google's parent company, Alphabet, was using Project Loon to explore the possibility of using a fleet of balloons to beam high-speed internet in remote areas of the world and was shut down after nine years because Google couldn't find a sustainable business model and partners.

However, it was not sufficiently clear why it was shut down and Tech Crunch called its closure "surprising," because a year before, it had gotten approval from the Kenyan government to provide commercial connectivity services.

In Project Loon, Google had replicated the information it received from the CIA through the FOA, but what was different was that Google used its advanced artificial intelligence and big data analytics to maneuver the balloon, according to Mills.

"The Chinese spy balloon had maneuvering capability, which is interesting. So did the Chinese rip-off Google, which borrowed from CIA? Curious question!" he said.

The Epoch Times reached out to Google for comment.

 Ret. Colonel John Mills. (File photo)
Ret. Colonel John Mills. (File photo)

Chinese Surveillance

Mills thinks that the Chinese were clearly conducting surveillance over specific U.S. strategic sites.

"I don't think it's a coincidence that they were over the three ... existing missile wings," said Mills, adding that the United States roughly maintains 450 Minuteman III missiles on alert at three different missile wings. "So roughly 150 missiles each at Malmstrom Montana Air Force Base, Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota—which also has a bomber base—then Francis E. Warren in Wyoming."

The Minuteman is a strategic weapon system using a ballistic missile of intercontinental range, according to the Defense Department website, and the American intercontinental ballistic missile force has remained on continuous round-the-clock alert since 1959. The Minuteman III missiles make up the most responsive leg of the nuclear triad.

"The Chinese were clearly conducting surveillance. They were exploiting gaps and seams in our air surveillance, our air picture. They clearly were doing that, and they were clearly collecting information and it also looked like the trackway went over Strategic Command Headquarters at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska," said Mills.

He suspects that the Chinese balloon was a spy operation and while it was over Nebraska, the Chinese were spying on the underground facilities.

"They were clearly doing electronic signals collection, perhaps imagery, perhaps measuring intelligence—all forms. Believe me, they probably had all kinds of different little sensors and subsensors collecting everything. So there's no question; they can call it weather all they want," said Mills.

Tiffany Meier is a New York-based reporter and host of NTD's "China in Focus."
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