Trump-era Chinese spy balloon incursions initially went undetected

WASHINGTON — The top military commander overseeing North American airspace said Monday that some previous Chinese spy balloon incursions under the Trump administration had gone undetected in real time, and the Pentagon was only made aware of them. later.

“I’ll tell you, we haven’t detected those threats, and that’s a gap in domain awareness,” said Gen. Glen D. VanHerck, commander of the Pentagon’s Northern Command.

One explanation, according to several U.S. officials, is that some previous incursions were initially classified as “unidentified aerial phenomena,” the Pentagon speaks for UFOs As the Pentagon and intelligence agencies have stepped up efforts over the past two years to find explanations for many of these incidents, officials have reclassified some events as Chinese spy balloons.

It is unclear when the Pentagon determined the incidents involving Chinese espionage. When the decision was made, officials kept the information secret to avoid China knowing that their surveillance efforts had been uncovered, officials said.

In 2021, intelligence agencies announced an intensified effort to collect more and better data on unexplained incidents near military bases and exercises. Although part of a long-term push, these efforts have dramatically increased the percentage of unexplained incidents that the Pentagon and intelligence agencies have been able to identify.

Jake Sullivan, the White House national security adviser, on Monday credited improved surveillance under the Biden administration with detecting the balloon that passed over the United States last week.

“We’ve enhanced our ability to detect things that the Trump administration couldn’t detect,” Sullivan said, speaking at an event hosted by the US Global Leadership Coalition.

US officials, who like others in this article spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive deliberations, identified at least one other earlier foray during the Biden administration. It is not known when this incident occurred.

John F. Kirby, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said Monday that Chinese spy balloons have flown over the United States on at least three occasions during the Trump administration.

“From all the indications we have, it was for brief periods of time – nothing like what we saw last week in terms of duration,” Mr Kirby said, referring to the balloon which spent much of the last week crossing the country before the United States shot him down.

Senior Trump administration officials have said they were never made aware of Chinese spy balloon incursions while in office. Mr Trump, on his social media site Truth Social, called allegations of intrusions during his administration “false disinformation”, and his last director of national intelligence, John Ratcliffe, also denied it.

A Biden administration official said Sunday that intelligence officials could offer briefings on China’s balloon surveillance program – which has sent airborne machines to five continents – to key former government officials. Trump administration.

General VanHerck said US intelligence had discovered some of the unexplained incidents were actually spy balloons based on “additional means of collection”.

Neither General VanHerck nor Mr. Kirby described how they gathered additional information to determine which of the unexplained incidents involved surveillance balloons.

Balloons are responsible for many unexplained incidents that the Navy and other military services have tracked in recent years. The previous incidents, like other unexplained occurrences, have been assigned to a Pentagon task force investigating UFOs and other aerial phenomena.

What we consider before using anonymous sources. Do the sources know the information? What is their motivation for telling us? Have they proven themselves in the past? Can we corroborate the information? Even with those questions answered, the Times uses anonymous sources as a last resort. The journalist and at least one editor know the identity of the source.

A US official said previous incursions have mostly occurred in coastal areas. Several types of spy balloons have been detected around the world in recent years, the official said. Some were small and fast; others – like last week’s intruder – were bigger and slower moving

The first Chinese balloons remained secret because intelligence officials generally do not want adversaries to know that their surveillance efforts have been discovered.

The Intelligence Community released its first public report on unknown incidents in 2021, but that document did not provide explanations for all but one of the 144 incidents examined.

After this report, the Pentagon and intelligence agencies began to intensify their efforts to attribute and explain more incidents. Last year, they participated in a public hearing with the House Intelligence Committee, and the Biden administration offered a closed-door briefing to Congress on Chinese surveillance efforts in August, according to a White House spokeswoman. .

A follow-up report on the unexplained incidents was delivered to Congress last month and reviewed 366 additional reports. While 171 remained unexplained, the report labeled 163 of them as balloons.

Although the public and lawmakers have speculated that some of the unexplained incidents reported by military pilots and recorded by Navy and Air Force sensors could be signs of extraterrestrial activity, officials Americans working on the issues said they thought it was surveillance activity or airborne litter.

US officials believe that in addition to balloon surveillance, China has used quadcopter drones to spy on the US military. A classified report sent to Congress last month said at least two foreign power surveillance incidents may have involved advanced technology misunderstood by the United States.

Although this report does not attribute these incidents to a specific country, two US officials said it was likely that the incidents involved Chinese efforts to spy on military installations.

It is not yet known what the balloon which transited the United States last week was monitoring. But US officials believe previous Chinese surveillance incidents involved efforts to learn more about pilot training and how the US coordinates military weaponry to amplify its combat effects.

US officials said they were continuing to try to salvage parts of the downed balloon on Saturday after it flew over the Atlantic Ocean.

Mr Kirby, the spokesman for the National Security Council, said finding debris and examining it would take time. “They recovered remains from the surface of the sea,” he said, but added that weather conditions “didn’t allow for much underwater monitoring of the debris field.”

US officials, Mr. Kirby said, determined that the balloon was manoeuvrable. “It is true that this balloon had the ability to maneuver on its own,” he said. “So it had propellers. There was a rudder, if you will, to change direction. He said the jet stream provided the rest of the balloon’s propulsion.

State Department officials said Monday they would still try to maintain dialogue with senior Chinese officials even as the two countries assess the fallout from last week’s incursion and diplomatic confrontation over it. They said officials in Washington and Beijing had not started talks to reschedule the China trip that Antony J. Blinken, the US secretary of state, canceled on Friday amid public uproar. He was to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Ned Price, the State Department spokesman, said officials would later determine “when it would be appropriate, if any, to consider traveling to the PRC to have the type of discussion that we believe is incumbent on our country to have” – referring to the People’s Republic of China.

Ryan Hass, a former US diplomat and White House official who specializes in China at the Brookings Institution, said the leaders of the two countries are likely to take a hands-on approach to managing relations despite recent tense episodes.

“The news cycle will continue and the same challenges in the relationship will remain,” he said. “Both leaders recognize the need to manage risks through direct and uncompromising diplomacy.”

Mr. Kirby said Mr. Blinken had traveled to China to begin to restore communications between the two governments – on climate and on military matters – which had been cut off by the Chinese following the visit of the former President Nancy Pelosi in Taiwan last year. President Biden and Mr. Xi had agreed at a meeting in Bali, Indonesia, in November that the two governments should restart climate talks.

But the balloon incident has put efforts to restore those communications on hold, Mr. Kirby said, adding that Mr. Blinken’s meeting was intended “to overcome some of those difficulties and find a way to improve the relationship”.

“It is clear that this incident did not help this process,” he said.

Michael D. Shear contributed report.


Not all news on the site expresses the point of view of the site, but we transmit this news automatically and translate it through programmatic technology on the site and not from a human editor.
Back to top button