A top U.S. general said that the Pentagon did not detect previous Chinese spy balloons as they were in the air, after former President Trump and members of his administration vehemently denied a claim from defense officials that such balloons had flown over the U.S. at least three times during his presidency.
Gen. Glen VanHerck, the head of U.S. Northern Command, said Monday that the Defense Department “did not detect” the previous balloons, adding that the intelligence community was made aware of them through other means of information collection.
“We did not detect those threats,” VanHerck told reporters. “The intel community after the fact — I believe as has been briefed already — assessed those threats from additional means of collection and made us aware of those balloons that were previously approaching North America or transited North America.”
President Biden ordered the latest Chinese surveillance balloon, which spent days in U.S. airspace, to be shot down off the coast of South Carolina on Saturday. The U.S. is currently trying to recover the debris, hoping to glean intelligence from the wreckage.
After a senior defense official said over the weekend that the U.S. was aware of at least three different times such balloons flew over the U.S. during the Trump administration, the former president and his intelligence officials came out to deny the claim.
“Now they are putting out that a Balloon was put up by China during the Trump Administration, in order to take the ‘heat’ off the slow moving Biden fools,” Trump said in a post on his Truth Social site. “China had too much respect for ‘TRUMP’ for this to have happened, and it NEVER did. JUST FAKE DISINFORMATION!”
The clash between the Biden administration and Trump and his former officials prompted Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) to call for a probe into why Trump was not made aware of the balloons during his presidency if they were detected.
“If it’s true the Pentagon purposely did NOT tell President Trump of Chinese Spy Balloons during his administration then we had a serious breach in command during the Trump admin,” Greene said on Twitter.
Senior administration officials cited Sunday in Bloomberg reporting said that the U.S. didn’t learn about the previous balloons until after Trump had left the Oval Office. It is unclear how the Biden administration learned about the previous flights.