The secret U.S. effort to track, hide and surveil the Chinese spy balloon

WASHINGTON — On a Friday evening last January, Gen. Glen VanHerck, the Air Force commander in charge of defending American airspace from intrusion, called President Joe Biden’s top military adviser, Gen. Mark Milley. U.S. intelligence officials had just notified the general that for roughly 10 days they had been tracking a mysterious — and enormous — object flying over the Asia-Pacific, VanHerck told Milley. The object had crossed into U.S. airspace over Alaska and VanHerck said he planned to dispatch military jets to fly alongside it and attempt to assess what it was. The previously unreported Jan. 27 phone call between Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and VanHerck, the head of the North American Aerospace Defense Command, set off an eight-day scramble inside the Biden administration to respond to a Chinese spy balloon the size of three school buses floating over the U.S. The spy balloon exposed an increasingly brazen China’s competitive advances miles above the Earth and brought the most critical relationship in the world to one of its lowest points in recent history. Nearly a year later, U.S. relations with China have not fully recovered and officials from the two nations have apparently not discussed it in detail. An American effort to create global norms in the largely unregulated spaces above the Earth has stalled. And VanHerck warns that the Chinese balloon program remains active and the U.S. has failed to develop the systems needed to detect spy balloons before they become a threat. Privately, Biden administration officials complain that the political and public outcry over the balloon was wildly disproportionate to any threat it posed to U.S. national security. In their view, because China was so angered and humiliated, the damage done to the relationship between Washington and Beijing was a far […]

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By Donato