CRIME, POLICE + COURTS

Pentagon says it had ‘an awareness gap’ that led to failure to detect 3 Chinese balloons under President Trump

Feb 6, 2023, 3:30 PM | Updated: Apr 4, 2023, 3:13 pm

balloons...

In this photo provided by Chad Fish, the remnants of a large balloon drift above the Atlantic Ocean, just off the coast of South Carolina, with a fighter jet and its contrail seen below it, Feb. 4, 2023. The downing of the suspected Chinese spy balloon by a missile from an F-22 fighter jet created a spectacle over one of the state's tourism hubs and drew crowds reacting with a mixture of bewildered gazing, distress and cheering. (Chad Fish via AP, File)

(Chad Fish via AP, File)

CNN) — The American military had a “domain awareness gap” that allowed three other suspected Chinese spy balloons to transit the continental United States undetected under the Trump administration, the Pentagon general responsible for providing air and missile defense over North America said on Monday.

“Every day as a NORAD commander, it’s my responsibility to detect threats to North America. I will tell you that we did not detect those threats,” Gen. Glen VanHerck, commander of US Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command said when asked about the three other balloons.

“And that’s a domain awareness gap that we have to figure out, but I don’t want to go into further detail.”

VanHerck added that the intelligence community after the fact was able to gather intelligence “from additional means that made us aware of those balloons that were previously approaching North America or transited North America.”

A senior administration official told CNN on Sunday that the intelligence community is prepared to offer briefings to key Trump administration officials about the Chinese surveillance program, which the Biden administration believes has been deployed in countries across five continents over the last several years.

Several senior officials from the Trump administration have not yet been contacted by the Biden administration about a briefing, people close to them told CNN on Monday.

Trump administration officials have insisted that they were not aware of any balloons transiting the US while Trump was in office.

“Did the Biden administration invent a time machine? What is the basis of this new detection?” John Bolton, a former national security adviser under President Donald Trump said, adding that he would take a briefing from the Biden administration if it was offered.

After the Biden administration disclosed last week that a suspected Chinese spy balloon was hovering over Montana, the Pentagon said that similar balloon incidents had occurred during the Trump administration. In response, former Trump administration Defense Secretary Mark Esper told CNN on Friday that he was “surprised” by that statement.

“I don’t ever recall somebody coming into my office or reading anything that the Chinese had a surveillance balloon above the United States,” he said.

Former President Donald Trump also said on Truth Social this week that reports of Chinese balloons transiting the US during his administration were “fake disinformation.”

National Security Council strategic communications coordinator John Kirby told reporters that there are several factors — like their altitude and speed — that make detecting the spy balloons difficult, saying that the ways to track them are “not constant.”

“They fly very, very high, very, very slow and in order to track, you’ve got to run the traps along many different lines of information and technology,” Kirby said. “Their dynamics, their trajectory, their flight behavior complicates the ability to know exactly where one is at any particular moment in time depending on where it is over the Earth’s surface.”

Delay in shooting the balloon down will be ‘well worth its value’

Adding to officials’ comments last week about the balloon that was shot down on Saturday’s ability to maneuver, Kirby said on Monday that the balloon had “propellers” and “a rudder … to allow it to change direction.” But that maneuverability was limited, he said, mostly restricted to “inside the jet stream.”

As far as size, the balloon was 200 feet tall, with a payload the size of a regional jet weighing over a couple thousand pounds, VanHerck said, which fed into concerns of what would happen if it was shot down.

“[Y]ou know from a safety standpoint, picture yourself with large debris weighing hundreds if not thousands of pounds falling out of the sky. That’s really what we’re kind of talking about,” he said. “So glass off of solar panels, potentially hazardous material, such as material that is required for a batteries to operate in such an environment as this and even the potential for explosives to detonate and destroy the balloon that could have been present.”

VanHerck clarified later that there was not reason to believe there were explosives on the balloon, but said it is an assumption officials have to make out of an abundance of caution.

Since the military operation on Saturday by F-22 fighter jets out of Langley Air Force Base in Virginia to take the balloon down, pieces of the balloon have since started arriving at the FBI’s lab at Quantico, Virginia.

And though there has been criticism that the balloon was allowed to linger for too long over the US, VanHerck said on Monday that he and the commander of US Strategic Command worked “in close coordination” and “took maximum precaution” to prevent Chinese intelligence collection.

The balloon was detected early enough to allow the US to gather intelligence on it while it transited the US before it was shot down, VanHerck said.

“There was a potential opportunity for us to collect intel where we had gaps on prior balloons,” he said. “And so I would defer to the intel community. But this gave us the opportunity to assess what they were actually doing, what kind of capabilities existed on the balloon, what kind of transmission capabilities existed, and I think you’ll see in the future that that time frame was well worth its value to collect over.”

Related reading

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

Crime, Police + Courts

Kouri Richins, a Utah mother of three who authorities say fatally poisoned her husband then wrote a...

Bridger Beal-Cvetko, KSL.com

Kouri Richins’ attorneys ask to withdraw from representing her in murder case

Attorneys for Kouri Richins requested to withdraw as her defense counsel and asked a judge to appoint new defense attorneys on Friday.

4 hours ago

Two teenage girls were hit by an SUV in Spanish Fork Saturday afternoon. Both girls are at Primary ...

Devin Oldroyd

Teenage girls in critical condition after being hit by SUV in Spanish Fork

Two teenage girls were hit by an SUV in Spanish Fork Saturday afternoon. Both girls are at Primary Children's in critical condition.

6 hours ago

The Salt Lake City Police Department arrested a man for allegedly kidnapping and holding a woman ag...

Devin Oldroyd

Salt Lake City police arrest man for alleged kidnapping Saturday

The Salt Lake City Police Department arrested a man for allegedly kidnapping and holding a woman against her will Saturday.

6 hours ago

SLCPD police car...

Devin Oldroyd

Salt Lake City Police Department responds to two shootings Saturday morning

The Salt Lake City Police Department is investigating two shootings that happened early Saturday morning. Both investigations are ongoing.

7 hours ago

A Utah County Sheriff's Office emblem...

Kennedy Camarena

Man was life flighted after falling 16 feet off of barn’s rooftop in Utah County

A man in his 20s had to be life flighted out of Utah County on Saturday when he fell 16 feet off of a barn rooftop.

8 hours ago

Police and firetruck lights....

Kennedy Camarena

Crane driver killed in work accident

A man working at a worksite in the Summit County area has died after the crane he was driving rolled over an embankment.

12 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

a doctor putting her hand on the chest of her patient...

Intermountain Health

Intermountain nurse-midwives launch new gynecology access clinic

An access clinic launched by Intermountain nurse-midwives provides women with comprehensive gynecology care.

Young couple hugging while a realtor in a suit hands them keys in a new home...

Utah Association of Realtors

Buying a home this spring? Avoid these 5 costly pitfalls

By avoiding these pitfalls when buying a home this spring, you can ensure your investment will be long-lasting and secure.

a person dressed up as a nordic viking in a dragon boat resembling the bear lake monster...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

The Legend of the Bear Lake Monster

The Bear Lake monster has captivated people in the region for centuries, with tales that range from the believable to the bizarre.

...

Live Nation Concerts

All the artists coming to Utah First Credit Union Amphitheatre (formerly USANA Amp) this summer

Summer concerts are more than just entertainment; they’re a celebration of life, love, and connection.

Mother and cute toddler child in a little fancy wooden cottage, reading a book, drinking tea and en...

Visit Bear Lake

How to find the best winter lodging in Bear Lake, Utah

Winter lodging in Bear Lake can be more limited than in the summer, but with some careful planning you can easily book your next winter trip.

Happy family in winter clothing at the ski resort, winter time, watching at mountains in front of t...

Visit Bear Lake

Ski more for less: Affordable ski resorts near Bear Lake, Utah

Plan your perfect ski getaway in Bear Lake this winter, with pristine slopes, affordable tickets, and breathtaking scenery.

Pentagon says it had ‘an awareness gap’ that led to failure to detect 3 Chinese balloons under President Trump