Houston Chronicle

Biden-era surveillan­ce boosts credited in detecting balloon

- By Zeke Miller, Lolita C. Baldor and Aamer Madhani

WASHINGTON — U.S. officials said that improvemen­ts ordered by President Joe Biden to strengthen defenses against Chinese espionage helped to identify last week’s spy balloon — and to determine that similar flights were conducted at multiple points during the Trump administra­tion.

White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said that after Biden took office, the U.S. “enhanced our surveillan­ce of our territoria­l airspace, we enhanced our capacity to be able to detect things that the Trump administra­tion was unable to detect.”

Biden, in turn, has been faulted by some Republican­s for not ordering the balloon shot down before it made its way across the U.S. Officials have said there was concern about damage to people on the ground, and Biden addressed the issue on Monday.

“Once it came over to the United States, from Canada, I told the Defense Department I wanted to shoot it down as soon as it was appropriat­e,” Biden said. The military concluded “we should not shoot it down over land, it was not a serious threat.”

In an exchange with reporters, Biden expressed his continued displeasur­e with Beijing. Asked why China launched the balloon over the U.S., he replied simply, “Because they’re the Chinese.”

China said Tuesday it will “resolutely safeguard its legitimate rights and interests” over the shooting down of the balloon, as relations between the two countries deteriorat­e further.

Foreign Ministry spokespers­on Mao Ning reiterated that the “unmanned airship” posed no threat and criticized the U.S. for overreacti­ng.

“The balloon does not belong to the U.S. The Chinese government will continue to resolutely safeguard its legitimate rights and interests,” Mao said without giving further details.

Biden administra­tion officials have planned a classified briefing for all senators on Thursday to discuss the spy balloon situation, according to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s office.

Sullivan, speaking at an event hosted by the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, said as part of the surveillan­ce improvemen­ts since Biden took office, “we were able to go back and look at the historical patterns” and uncover “multiple instances” during the Trump administra­tion in which Chinese surveillan­ce balloons traversed American airspace.

Before Monday, U.S. officials had said that at least three times during the Trump administra­tion and at least one other time during Biden’s time as president balloons have crossed American airspace, but not for this long. In those instances, the United States determined the balloons belonged to China only after they had left U.S. airspace, said Gen. Glen VanHerck, head of U.S. Northern Command.

Sullivan did not explain what specifical­ly allowed the U.S. to detect and track the latest balloon where the previous administra­tion might not have. Officials have said, without elaboratin­g, that China has flown similar balloons over parts of five continents in recent years.

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Monday that the U.S. military had begun collecting debris from the balloon.

VanHerck said Navy teams were taking precaution­s to safeguard against the chance any part of the balloon was rigged with explosives.

The balloon was an estimated 200 feet tall and was carrying a long sensor package underneath, which VanHerck estimated was the size of a small regional jet.

Kirby firmly rejected Beijing’s claim that the U.S. violated internatio­nal law by shooting down the balloon.

“The United States, under President Biden’s authority and orders acted in accordance with internatio­nal law and in defense of our homeland and our sovereign airspace,” Kirby said. “We were absolutely within our rights to bring down that balloon.”

Kirby also dismissed China’s contention that the balloon was for meteorolog­ical purposes, saying “it strains credulity ... that this was some kind of weather balloon that was floating on the winds.”

 ?? U.S. Navy via Associated Press ?? Sailors assigned to Explosive Ordnance Disposal Group 2 recover a Chinese high-altitude surveillan­ce balloon Sunday after it was shot down off the coast of Myrtle Beach, S.C.
U.S. Navy via Associated Press Sailors assigned to Explosive Ordnance Disposal Group 2 recover a Chinese high-altitude surveillan­ce balloon Sunday after it was shot down off the coast of Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States