Earlier this year, the U.S. military downed a Chinese spy balloon that had traveled over sensitive military sites in North America, but the Biden administration initially sought to conceal its existence, according to former and current officials.
Secrecy Surrounding Chinese Spy Balloon: Administration’s Initial Intentions and Airspace Concerns
The balloon, shot down on Feb. 4 off the North Carolina coast, raised concerns as it traversed U.S. airspace. Administration officials reportedly planned to study it discreetly and not disclose the incident. The media brought attention to the balloon on Feb. 1 after it flew over Montana, prompting officials to organize briefings for lawmakers.
Former senior U.S. officials revealed that there was an initial intention to keep the Chinese spy balloon a secret before it became public knowledge. White House officials were approached by NBC News on Feb. 1, leading to the organization of briefings for lawmakers. However, a senior Biden administration official denied any attempt to withhold information, stating that the focus was on protecting intelligence assets related to tracking the balloon.
Air Force Gen. Glen VanHerck, head of NORAD, alerted Gen. Mark Milley about the spycraft entering U.S. airspace over Alaska on Jan. 27. Notably, President Biden was informed on Jan. 31, and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, occupied with a diplomatic trip to Asia, reportedly did not pay immediate attention. By the time Biden was informed, the balloon had crossed Canada and reentered the U.S. over Montana.
Chinese Spy Balloon Incident Exposes Gaps in U.S. Homeland Security: Calls for Improved Surveillance Capabilities
The Chinese spy balloon, roughly the size of three school buses and equipped with solar panels and surveillance devices, transmitted data collected from military sites to Beijing. Despite previous reports suggesting a suspension of China’s surveillance balloon program, Gen. VanHerck confirmed its continued activity, highlighting the U.S.’s failure to develop systems capable of detecting high-altitude spy balloons. The incident underscored significant gaps in the nation’s ability to detect potential threats to its homeland.
While Biden recently met with Chinese President Xi Jinping in San Francisco, officials from both countries have apparently not extensively discussed the spy balloon incident. The revelation raises concerns about national security and the need for improved surveillance capabilities to address emerging threats effectively.