Ex-national security chief warns Britain might NOT be able to spot Chinese spy balloons over the country – amid warnings they could be designed to eavesdrop on conversations
- Lord Darroch said not confident in the UK’s capability to deal with spy balloons
- Peer said people should not be overly concerned as spying happens all the time
Britain might not be able to spot Chinese spy balloons over the country, a former national security chief warned today.
Lord Darroch questioned Rishi Sunak’s claim that the UK had a ‘watertight capability’ to deal with the potential threat – pointing to under-investment in defence.
The doubts were raised amid speculation that the devices – one of which was shot down by the US last week – could be used for eavesdropping.
Nato ministers are gathering in Brussels today to coordinate weapons supplies for Ukraine and discuss the threat posed by spy balloons.
The government has conceded it is possible balloons have already been over the UK. Defence Secretary Ben Wallace – who will be in the Belgian capital for the meetings – has announced a security review.
Lord Darroch, a former ambassador to the US and Downing Street national security adviser, suggested there might be gaps in the existing systems.
The US military has announced it has recovered debris (pictured) from the Chinese spy balloon downed by a US fighter jet off South Carolina’s coast on February 4
Lord Darroch (right) questioned Rishi Sunak’s (left) claim that the UK had a ‘watertight capability’ to deal with the potential threat – pointing to under-investment in defence
Asked if he was confident Mr Sunak was right to suggest yesterday that the UK has a ‘watertight rapid response to intercept these kind of things’, the peer told Times Radio: ‘
‘I’m not because I think we have under-invested in defence for the last couple of decades – one might argue ever since the end of the Cold War – and we don’t have all the kit and equipment that we really need and there are gaps around in the technology our armed forces have.
‘So, we will have some capability; whether we have a watertight capability as the Prime Minister says, I’m not so sure.
‘But we have enough capability, I think, that people can certainly sleep easy in their beds about.’
He added: ‘It’s still, I think, unless we discover something new, it’s still well-known technology and it’s still basically surveillance, still basically spying, and the reality is an awful lot of that goes on everywhere.’
Meanwhile, the former chief of the air staff said he was puzzled why China would be using spy balloons .
Quizzed on why China would bother with surveillance balloons when it already has ‘260 spy satellites’, Air Chief Marshal Sir Michael Graydon told LBC radio: ‘It’s a very good question.
‘That’s been sort of exercising my mind, what they are getting from a balloon that they can’t get from other sources is not clear to me at all, and probably we have enough information available from satellites which they are able to get on to, and frankly using Google and all the rest of it, would give them an awful lot of information.
‘I think possibly there’s opportunity to listen in to certain things that they might not be able to do so easily.’
Sir Michael said it was an ‘irritation’ but the UK should ‘find out what’s in it before we get our knickers to much in the twist’.
On whether such balloons could be shot down if they enter UK airspace, Sir Michael said: ‘Probably the most likely is let it drift out towards sea and then shoot it down there but I go back to what I said to start with, it would be very useful to find out what’s actually in them before we get too excited.’
The US military have announced it has recovered critical electronics from the Chinese spy balloon downed by a US fighter jet off South Carolina’s coast on February 4.
National Security Council Coordinator Admiral John Kirby speaks at a White House Press Briefing last night on the threat from balloons and unidentified flying objects
Recovered fragments from the aircraft include key sensors thought to be used for intelligence gathering.
The revelation comes less than a week after Navy seamen were pictured pulling portions of the balloon from the chilly waters of the Atlantic – with the Pentagon releasing sensational photographs of the retrieval operation.
The Chinese balloon, which Beijing denies was a spy vessel, spent a week flying over the US and Canada before it was shot down on the orders of US President Biden – a decision officials reportedly mulled for days amid fears of inflaming already strained relations between the two countries.
The spy balloon was the first of four airborne objects gunned out of the sky by the US in eight days – although it is not clear whether the others were linked to foreign states.
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