According to two current senior U.S. officials and one former senior administration official who spoke with NBC News on condition of anonymity, China was able to control the spy balloon so it could make multiple passes over several military sites.
They noted that the balloon at times even flew figure-eight formations over the military locations while transmitting the information it collected back to Beijing in real time. (Related: CCP has been creating spy balloons for YEARS out of a heavily guarded naval base in southern China.)
The officials told NBC News that the intelligence gathered was mostly electronic signals from weapons systems or communications from base personnel. The Biden administration confirmed that the balloon was capable of collecting signals intelligence.
The Chinese spy balloon first entered U.S. airspace on Jan. 28, when it flew over the Aleutian Islands at the very Western edge of Alaska. It flew over the rest of the state, passed by Canada before entering the Lower 48 over Idaho on Jan. 31 and flying over Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana, which houses nuclear assets.
The balloon was not shot down until Feb. 4 off the coast of South Carolina, after it had made a several-day-long journey across the U.S., during which time it could have flown over additional U.S. military installations and transmitted data from those sites back to Beijing.
Following the publication of NBC News' investigation, the Biden administration immediately went on the defensive to claim that it could not confirm reports that China was able to collect real-time data from its spy balloon.
Multiple spokespersons from the White House and the Department of Defense told reporters at multiple briefings that they could not confirm the account. The Pentagon added that its experts were still analyzing the debris collected from the balloon after it was shot down.
"I could not confirm that there was real-time transmission from the balloon back to [China] at this time," said Pentagon spokesperson Sabrina Singh. "That's something we're analyzing right now."
A spokesperson for the Pentagon claimed that the balloon had "limited additive value" for intelligence collection by the Chinese government "over and above what [the Chinese Communist Party] is likely to be able to collect through things like satellites in low earth orbit."
The Biden administration also claimed that it took measures to limit the ability of the spy balloon to collect information on sensitive military and government installations, while admitting that the balloon had the ability to loiter longer over U.S. locations.
Republican Sen. Steve Daines of Montana said the Pentagon's claim that the balloon had "limited additive value" is "little comfort to Montanans and the American people and a weak spin on an issue the administration mishandled from start to finish."
Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he intends to hold the administration accountable for its lack of transparency regarding the Chinese spy balloon.
"We have consistently learned more from press reports about the Chinese surveillance balloon than we have from administration officials," he said.
Learn more about the threats to America's national security, including foreign espionage attempts, at NationalSecurity.news.
Watch this clip from the "War Room" on Real America's Voice as host Steve Bannon interviews former Army Intelligence officer Capt. Seth Keshel about how the Biden White House initially tried to dismiss the threat of Chinese spy balloons.