Phone call sheds light on why Biden Admin delayed response to Chinese spy balloon over Alaska

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By MICHAELA BURROWS | DAILY CALLER NEWS FOUNDATION

A Jan. 27 phone call between the top U.S. general at the time and Gen. Glen VanHerck, head of North American Aerospace Defense Command triggered an eight-day crisis as the Biden administration scrambled to respond to a novel threat from China, NBC News reported.

Biden administration officials privately lamented that the public outcry and reputational consequences for Beijing following the spy balloon’s reveal that rocked the world in early 2023 damaged relations with China while overrepresenting the national security threat actually posed by the balloon, according to NBC.

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 briefed on the situation told NBC. (RELATED: Pentagon Says Military-To-Military Talks With China Have Resumed)

However, a senior Biden administration official denied any 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.”

Intelligence officials had notified VanHerck they had been tracking a massive object that had transited across the Indo-Pacific and crossed into U.S. airspace over Alaska, NBC reported. VanHerck told Gen. Mark Milley during the Jan. 27 phone call he planned to send up aircraft sorties to fly 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.

VanHerck began peppering senior Department of Defense leaders, including Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Milley, with details of the object’s location, potential flight path, threat and likely intent.

Three days after the phone call, on Jan. 31, Biden’s aides informed him of the object. Biden requested options for military response, but his advisers told him that the thousands of pounds of debris falling 65,000 feet to earth in a possible debris field about 70 miles wide and 70 miles long would endanger Americans.

But a resident in Montana spotted the balloon, and NBC News informed the administration it planned to report that a Chinese spy balloon was crossing over the U.S. on Feb. 1, the outlet reported. Officials set up last minute briefings for Congress and the media to set the narrative.

The balloon stopped transmitting signals back to China after news of its transit broke, and U.S. officials believe China planned to self-destruct the balloon rather than bringing it back home to retrieve photos and other kinds of data stored on board. 

Officials in the National Security Council and Defense Department previously said they had taken steps to protect sensitive installations from the spying capabilities of the Chinese balloon.

That was also the first time Austin spoke to VanHerck about the balloon, taking a 3 a.m. phone call from Asia.

“They weren’t paying attention,” a senior U.S. official later told the outlet.

Biden directed the military to shoot the balloon down as soon as safely possible. The military and NASA began devising ways to reduce the impact of a shoot-down, eventually downing the object six miles off the coast of South Carolina.

Nearly one year later, President Joe Biden’s promise to establish norms of behavior in the skies have not been realized, and VanHerck worries the U.S. still lacks the radar ability to monitor long-range aerial threats before they reach the U.S. homeland, NBC reported. Beijing continues to dispatch surveillance balloons across the world.

“It caused so many problems,” one senior administration official told the outlet.

The White House and National Security Council did not immediately respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.

Michaela Burrows is a national security, defense & foreign affairs reporter at the Daily Caller News Foundation.

20 COMMENTS

  1. Here’s the problem with the narrative. They knew for a long time where it came from, it’s path and that it would overfly some portion of North America. NORTHCOM had a plan prepared well in advance of it breaching our ADIZ to shoot it down. This plan was communicated to leadership in DC. They ignored this information and/or refused to act. There was nothing to learn by letting it overfly our sovereign airspace. China is flying these balloons around the world and for sometime. The only reasonable conclusion at this point is simply incompetence by senior military and elected officials in DC.

    • That is EXACTLY how stupid Biden and his diversified cronies think we are.
      That is also exactly how stupid the huge flock of sheep that worship and follow the Chinese bought and paid for Biden and cronies really are.

      Absolutely nothing to see hear folks…just another UFO sighting…or wait thats too scary…it was just a weather balloon.
      We certainly cant let this hamper the cash flow…Hunter has an unpaid tax bill (finally) from all the previously collected cash flow.
      Follow the money trail to find the real story is as old as the mountains (and Joe Biden)

  2. Austin and Milley determined that there were no heterosexual white men onboard the balloon and therefore it was no threat to national security.

  3. This article is based on NBC. Given the amount of garbage that comes out of that organization, why should we even think about believing this? is this just more bullsh_t?

  4. Miley was looking for white rage.
    Austin was looking at diversity concerns. Biden was probably looking at the 15% coming into his/Hunters bank account.

    Short version: we were hoping nobody would notice. Damn red state hicks.

  5. The Chinese spy balloon could easily have been shot down over Alaska. There are vast regions where no one lives. The fact that the traitor Joe Biden allowed this spy operation to continue across our nation shows what a traitor he is.

  6. If Bidens advisors told him that the debris field would be “70 miles wide and 70 miles long” they should have been fired on the spot for being completely, totally, and without a doubt some of the dumbest people to ever live. If he listened to the advisers, he should have resigned immediately because he’s even dumber than his advisors. That is one of the dumbest things anyone could come up with, a ballon made of mylar that is the size of three school busses carrying a payload of a few thousand pounds at 65,000 feet would never create a debris field that size. That anyone would accept that on it’s face is extremely troubling.

    • It’s just new science, similar to the municipality city structure engineer stating that we only have 20 lbs per square foot on our rooftops and that there’s no need to worry.

  7. A non-story. Nobody seemed to be concerned when the balloons were flying over this country when Trump was in office (at least three that we know of). But oh boy, it’s a friggin disaster when it happens when Biden is in office.

    • Maybe because there is no evidence that those Chinese balloons were flying over the USA during Trump’s time in office?

      After all, the Chinese (along with the WEF) paid good money for their puppet in the White House — it’s only natural that they would want to closely monitor his activity, to make sure that they got their money’s worth.

      • Actually there is. The Pentagon has stated that three of them flew over the country during the Dear Leaders regime. I know that probably is difficult for you to understand but try and keep up, ok pumpkin?

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