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U.S. failed to detect past Chinese spy balloons over United States -U.S. general

2023-02-06T18:51:51Z

The suspected Chinese spy balloon drifts to the ocean after being shot down off the coast in Surfside Beach, South Carolina, U.S. February 4, 2023. REUTERS/Randall Hill

A senior U.S. general responsible for bringing down a Chinese spy balloon said on Monday the military had not detected previous spy balloons before the one that appeared on Jan. 28 over the United States and called it an “awareness gap.”

The Pentagon said over the weekend that Chinese spy balloons had briefly flown over the United States at least three times during President Donald Trump’s administration and one previously under President Joe Biden.

Air Force General Glen VanHerck, head of U.S. North American Aerospace Defense Command and Northern Command, said the balloon was 200 feet (60 meters) tall and the payload under it weighed a couple thousand pounds.

“I will tell you that we did not detect those threats, and that’s a domain awareness gap,” VanHerck said.

He added that U.S. intelligence determined the previous flights after the fact based on “additional means of collection” of intelligence without offering further details on whether that might be cyber espionage, telephone intercepts or human sources.

A U.S. Air Force fighter jet shot down the suspected Chinese spy balloon off the South Carolina coast on Saturday, a week after it first entered U.S. airspace and triggered a dramatic — and public — spying saga that worsened Sino-U.S. relations.

VanHerck did not rule out that there could have been explosives on the balloon.

Multiple fighter and refueling aircraft were involved in the mission, but only one — an F-22 fighter jet from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia — took the shot at 2:39 p.m. (1939 GMT), using a single AIM-9X supersonic, heat-seeking, air-to-air missile.