Despite Biden administration officials assuring the American public that the Chinese spy balloon did not collect and transmit data, a previously unreported phone call paints a different picture of top officials hiding information about the balloon.
According to NBC News, a previously unreported Jan. 27 phone call between President Joe Biden’s top military adviser, Gen. Mark Milley and NORAD chief Gen. Glen VanHerck sheds lights about China’s surveillance balloon.
The administration initially hoped to keep the balloon’s existence a secret from Congress and the public, the outlet reported, citing multiple former and current administration and congressional officials.
‘Before it was spotted publicly, there was the intention to study it and let it pass over and not ever tell anyone about it,’ one former senior U.S. official told NBC.
A senior Biden administration official denied allegations that they attempt to conceal the incident, saying decisions were made to protect sensitive intelligence capabilities.
‘To the extent any of this was kept quiet at all, that was in large part to protect intel equities related to finding and tracking them,’ the official told NBC. ‘There was no intention to keep this from Congress at any point.’
During the Jan. 27 phone call, Milley called VanHerck, and said the Pentagon planned to send up F-22 jets and other aircraft alongside the object and attempt to gauge its characteristics.
Soon after that call, U.S. military jets used targeting pods to determine the object was a balloon the size of three school buses and equipped with a massive surveillance payload but no offensive capabilities, NBC reported.
Biden was not briefed on the balloon until Feb. 1, NBC reported. The public did not hear about the Chinese spy balloon until Feb. 2, when NBC News broke the story.
VanHerck warned that the Chinese balloon program remains active and that the U.S. has failed to develop systems to detect and track the craft.
‘It exposed significant gaps, long range gaps, for us to be able to see potential threats to the homeland.’ VanHerck said. ‘I think that opened the eyes of a lot of people.’
The top military official said that the U.S. is ‘not where it needs to be’ in the development of ‘deterrence options.’
‘Time is the opportunity to create deterrence options or, if required, defeat options,’ he said, adding that the U.S. is still ‘not where we need to be.’
According to the outlet, Biden officials privately lamented the public outcry and consequences of the spy balloon’s reveal in early 2023.
Officials, in their view, claimed that the spy balloon’s reputational consequences for China and U.S. relations posed a far graver threat than the balloon entering U.S. airspace.
‘It caused so many problems,’ one senior administration official said.
President Biden’s White House has stated the delay in shooting down the surveillance craft was due to safety precautions as the balloon was carrying several thousand pounds of equipment.
The U.S. eventually shot down the craft over open water off the coast of South Carolina, leading to questions about why that wasn’t done as it crossed water near Alaska.