U.S. Grappled with Crisis After Discovery of Chinese Spy Balloon, NBC Reports

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

Officials in the Biden administration privately expressed concern that the public outcry and reputational fallout for Beijing, following the revelation of the spy balloon in early 2023, damaged relations with China disproportionately to the actual national security threat posed by the balloon, NBC reported. Initially, the administration sought to keep the balloon’s existence a secret from Congress and the public, but the plan changed after it was spotted publicly.

The administration faced criticism for a perceived attempt to conceal the incident, with one former senior U.S. official stating that there was an initial intention to study the balloon without informing anyone about it. However, a senior Biden administration official denied any attempt at concealment, asserting that decisions were made to protect sensitive intelligence capabilities.

According to NBC, intelligence officials had tracked a massive object transiting across the Indo-Pacific into U.S. airspace over Alaska. Gen. VanHerck, in a call with Gen. Milley, discussed plans to send aircraft sorties to assess the object’s characteristics. Subsequently, U.S. military jets identified the object as a balloon with surveillance capabilities but no offensive features.

VanHerck informed top Department of Defense leaders about the object, prompting discussions about its location, potential threat, and likely intent. President Biden was briefed on Jan. 31, and while he sought military response options, advisers warned of the dangers of debris falling over a wide area.

After a Montana resident spotted the balloon, NBC News planned to report its crossing over the U.S. on Feb. 1. The balloon stopped transmitting signals, and officials believed China planned to self-destruct it. President Biden ordered the military to shoot down the balloon, which was downed off the coast of South Carolina.

Nearly a year later, President Biden’s goal of establishing norms of behavior in the skies remains unrealized, and concerns persist about the U.S.’s ability to monitor long-range aerial threats, according to NBC. China continues to deploy surveillance balloons globally.

The White House and National Security Council have not responded to requests for comment from the Daily Caller News Foundation.

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