As all eyes were trained on the sky this week, watching a suspected Chinese spy balloon work its way across the United States, TCU professor and former CIA officer and FBI special agent Tracy Walder couldn’t help but reflect on her past career.
At the CIA, Walder often teamed up with image analysts and satellite reconnaissance missions.
Later, as a special agent for the FBI, she specialized in Chinese counterintelligence.
“My job was to catch Chinese here in the United States,” said Walder.
She said her first reaction to news of a potential spy balloon was one of surprise.
"I think what the public doesn't realize is that so many countries, China, us, Russia, have satellites up in space that spy. We just don't see it every day with our naked eye. So to see it kind of like this invading our air space in such an obvious way was very surprising to me,” she said.
Walder said while people who could see the balloon from their front yards may have feared for their privacy, it likely wasn't taking photographs.
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“The reality is, I think, shocking to a lot of people. A lot of satellites can see the license plate of your car. We really don't need an object as visually out there as this to be able to see that. So, I'm not convinced that it was taking pictures. I think that it was actually collecting something called MASIT, which is measurement and signals intelligence,” said Walder.
Though Walder’s not involved in investigating the balloon, based on its altitude, she believes it was trying to read RADAR and SONAR signals.
She said it’s likely the U.S. took steps to block its ability to do so in the days leading up to Saturday when an F-22 fighter jet fired a missile that punctured and downed the suspected spy balloon just off of the South Carolina Coast.
Walder said the government's now likely working to retrieve the balloon's payload or surveillance equipment.
For Americans, she hopes this highly visible event opened some eyes.
“I am very concerned about the damage that China is doing and also about the espionage that they are engaging in,” said Walder.
She encouraged people to closely watch what happens next.
"I think we really need to think about how we deal with foreign actors who get caught engaging in this behavior because the reality is that it then provides Americans with a sense of insecurity and then that becomes highly problematic,” she said.