The spy balloon that is believed to be part of a Chinese global espionage program reportedly flew over key U.S. missile and nuclear weapons sites before being shot down off the coast of South Carolina, according to a top House lawmaker.

During a news conference, House Intelligence Chairman Mike Turner (R-Ohio) revealed that the path the spy balloon took as it traversed across the United States airspace went right over key U.S. missile defense and nuclear weapons sites.

“If you take the path that this balloon did, and you put up an X every place where you have a missile defense site, actual nuclear weapons infrastructure, you’re going to follow this path,” said Turner. “So I think the natural conclusion is, it is intelligence gathering with respect to try to affect in some way the command and control of our missile defense and nuclear weapons.”

Rep. Mike Turner, House Intelligence Chairman

Speaking with NBC News on Sunday, Turner condemned the Pentagon’s decision to allow the balloon to collect its data across the entire country, allegedly out of concern for the risk shooting it down could pose to people on the ground.

“[The balloon] should never have been allowed to enter the United States, and it never should have been allowed to complete its mission,” Turner said.

The balloon was reportedly part of China’s surveillance operations that have been going on long before the rogue balloon ventured over into U.S. airspace last week.

This program is being run by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) out of China’s heavily militarized Hainan Island province located off the coast of the mainland in the South China Sea. The surveillance balloons are likely being used to gather military intelligence from nations that are of strategic interest to Beijing, such as Japan, India, and the Philippines.

Department of Defense press secretary Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder reported that this elaborate Chinese espionage program has been operating since at least 2018, and said that spy balloons have been spotted over five continents.

Close-up of Chinese spy balloon

It was also revealed that, just four months ago, another Chinese spy balloon was discovered after it crashed into the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii. Also, during the Trump administration, three other Chinese balloons were reportedly flown over Texas, Florida, and Guam.

“When you look at the scope of this program – operating over at least five continents in regions like Latin America, South America, Southeast Asia, East Asia, and Europe – again, it demonstrates why, for the Department of Defense, that China remains the pacing challenge and something that we’ll continue to stay focused on,” Ryder said.

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