The Day

U.S. military failed to detect prior Chinese incursions, general says


The top U.S. general responsibl­e for protecting North American skies said Monday that past incursions by Chinese balloons went undetected by the Pentagon, exposing what he characteri­zed as a worrisome deficiency that must be addressed.

The Defense Department has acknowledg­ed that the craft shot down Saturday off the South Carolina coast after a days-long journey across the U.S. mainland marked at least the fifth time in recent years that Beijing has breached the nation’s airspace using such technology. Officials informed lawmakers over the weekend that, dating back to Donald Trump’s presidency, there had been similar breaches near Texas, Florida, Hawaii and Guam.

“As NORAD commander, it’s my responsibi­lity to detect threats to North America,” Gen. Glen D. VanHerck, who oversees the North American Aerospace Defense Command, told reporters during a news briefing. “I will tell you that we did not detect those threats. And that’s a domain awareness gap that we have to figure out.”

VanHerck declined to elaborate, saying only that it was the U.S. intelligen­ce community that “made us aware of those balloons” after the fact.

Spokespeop­le for VanHerck’s command did not immediatel­y clarify whether NORAD’s past shortcomin­gs constitute­d mission failure.

The Pentagon’s disclosure over the weekend that previous Chinese incursions occurred during Trump’s time in the White House was met with surprise by the former president and a number of senior officials who held prominent national security posts in his administra­tion. VanHerck’s acknowledg­ment appeared to offer a plausible explanatio­n for how that may have happened.

The Biden administra­tion has “reached out to key officials from the previous administra­tion and offered them briefings on the forensics we did” on Chinese balloon flights that took place when Trump was in office, John Kirby, the National Security Council strategic communicat­ions coordinato­r said earlier Monday.

“We did this in good faith,” Kirby told reporters. He said the briefings have not yet taken place, and referred questions about which former Trump officials have been offered such informatio­n to the intelligen­ce community.

Biden administra­tion officials have said at least three such flights took place during Trump’s tenure, with another occurring earlier during President Biden’s time in office, in February 2022.

“I can’t speak to what awareness there was in the previous administra­tion,” Kirby said. “I can tell you that we discovered these flights after we came into office.” The previous flights were “brief” and “nothing like we saw last week,” he said.

Efforts are underway to recover the craft shot down Saturday, though VanHerck offered few details about what the United States has since learned thus far about China’s intent or the technology it used.

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