Former CIA Officer Explains How Chinese Spy Balloon May Benefit U.S.

A former CIA officer said on Sunday that she is "hopeful" about the information that can now be recovered from the downed Chinese spy balloon.

The strange craft was first sighted over Billings, Montana, on Wednesday, and despite China's claims about it being a weather balloon, it was ultimately found to be a surveillance device. Following days of debate and calls for the craft to be shot down, the U.S. military finally took out the balloon over the Atlantic Ocean on Saturday afternoon roughly six nautical miles off the coast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

In a statement, China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that the country "will resolutely uphold the relevant company's legitimate rights and interests, and at the same time reserving the right to take further actions in response," the Associated Press reported Saturday.

Countering criticism over the government's seeming inaction against the balloon earlier in the week, President Joe Biden said that he first ordered the balloon destroyed on Wednesday, but military officials insisted that they wait until it was over the ocean, to prevent debris from harming people on the ground. Following its destruction, the government began the process of recovering parts of the craft to see what can be learned from it.

spy balloon what can be obtained
President Joe Biden is seen arriving at an airport shortly after the destruction of the Chinese spy balloon. A former CIA officer on Sunday explained what sort of data the balloon was most likely collecting. Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

Speaking with MSNBC's Katie Phang on Sunday, Tracy Walder, a former FBI special agent and former CIA staff operations officer, said that she hopes good information can be obtained from the debris, given the circumstances of the balloon's destruction.

"It sounds like they shot it down in really just 47 feet of water, which is great, and it probably gave it a bit of a cushion, meaning the payload is probably somewhat intact and what we can do is reverse engineer that and see exactly what their [China's] capabilities are," Walder said.

She continued: "This provides us with a lot of intelligence rather than providing China with the intelligence that they were trying to obtain. My best hypothesis is that this balloon was not taking pictures over the U.S. Rather, they were gathering measurement intelligence, which is signals from nukes, radar, sonar, those kinds of things. That's what it would be measuring, and I'm really hopeful that this will be an intelligence boon for us seeing what this payload has."

Supporting Walder's theory about measurement data is the fact that Montana, where the balloon was first sighted, is home to the Malmstrom Air Force Base, one of the few bases in the country that houses nuclear silos, housing roughly 150 missiles. Montana is home to one of three other nuclear bases, with the others being based in Wyoming and North Dakota.

When reached by Newsweek for comment on Sunday afternoon, the White House did not have any updates to provide on the status of the debris recovery operation.

Updated 02/05/2023, 5:58 p.m. ET: This article was updated to reflect a response from the White House.