The Pentagon admits that it did not detect the raids of Chinese balloons during the term of Trump | International | The USA Print

One of the Chinese spy balloons detected by the United States.
One of the Chinese spy balloons detected by the United States.Chris Jorgensen (AP)

The US military commanders did not detect at the time three Chinese spy balloons that entered the territory of this country briefly during the term of President Donald Trump, as a senior Pentagon official acknowledged on Monday, due to an “awareness gap” about the possibility of something like this happening. Only the raids were known a posteriori, through “other ways” to obtain intelligence data, has acknowledged the head of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), General Glen VanHerck.

“As NORAD commander, it is my responsibility to detect threats against North America. I can tell you that we did not detect these threats,” VanHerck said in a telephone conversation with journalists. In those cases, the balloons only stayed briefly over US territory, in Florida, Texas, Hawaii and Guam. Officials from the Trump era, and the former president himself, had denied that these incidents had occurred, which the Pentagon has revealed amid strong criticism from the Republican opposition to the Democratic Administration for what they consider an excessively soft management of the administration. raid last week.

These raids were only known after Democrat Joe Biden’s arrival at the White House, when other data was obtained through “additional intelligence collection channels,” VanHerck said. The military did not specify if he was referring to data obtained through the interception of communications, cyberattacks or spies on the ground.

The spokesman for the National Security Council, John Kirby, has indicated in a parallel telephone press conference that the White House has offered briefings on the findings regarding those incidents to senior officials of the previous Administration.

The Chinese spy balloon shot down on Saturday is still, for the most part, submerged in the Atlantic. The weather conditions and currents in the area, off the coast of South Carolina, complicate the work to rescue the fragments of a device whose incursion into US territory and subsequent demolition has precipitated a new crisis in relations between Washington and Peking.

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The device, with a length similar to that of three buses, was 61 meters high and weighed close to a ton, as specified by the Pentagon this Monday at a press conference, two days after an F-22 fighter struck down the balloon with an Aim-9X missile. The size of the artifact, added to the height from which it fell – more than 18,000 meters – means that the area where its fragments have fallen is wide. “About 1,500 by 1,500 meters, that is, fifteen by fifteen football fields,” VanHerck pointed out.

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Since Monday, search and rescue teams have started using unmanned underwater vehicles to try to locate the remains, in an area about fifteen meters deep, according to VanHerck. Participating in the rescue tasks are, among others, the Navy ship USS Carter Hall, where the rescued remains are being stored, and a Pathfinder vessel, equipped with sonar and which will help draw an underwater map of the area.

The area has been closed to access by other ships. But the Pentagon acknowledges the possibility that some fragments will wash up on the shoreline. Local authorities have asked the public that if they find something, they should not touch it and notify the Police or the Coast Guard. John Kirby pointed out that so far the recovered fragments have been collected from the sea surface. Bad weather has made it impossible to carry out underwater operations.

Once all the remains have been collected, they will be sent to the secret services for analysis. There are no plans, he stressed, to hand them over to China, which has described as an “overreaction” the shooting down of what it claims was only a civil aircraft for meteorological and scientific research that was blown off course by the winds.

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A version that the United States completely discards. The balloon, he maintains, had espionage functions. He had equipment for it, his route took him through places of military interest and in the past China had already sent other similar balloons to US territory, although never for so long, according to the Government.

“We have every right to throw the balloon at them and we are going to recover as many fragments as we can to study it,” Kirby stressed. The spokesman has stressed that the demolition took place within US territorial waters precisely to respect international standards. “Unlike China, which did not comply by flying over the sovereign airspace of the United States,” he said.

This was his response to Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Xie Feng, who accused Washington of “seriously violating the spirit of international law” with an “indiscriminate use of force.” Xie has also assured that Beijing “will defend the interests and dignity of the country.” And the spokeswoman for that Ministry, Mao Ning, has insisted that “the involuntary entry of this aircraft is an isolated and accidental incident. It tests the sincerity of the United States in stabilizing and improving bilateral relations, and in the way it handles crises.”

Washington, for its part, alleges that China maintains a network of spy balloons that operate throughout the world and have been sighted in countries on five continents. This balloon, he maintains, was part of that fleet.

But, despite the mutual reproaches between the two main economies in the world, Kirby tried to downplay the consequences that the incident may have. Although “clearly the incident has not helped” to improve ties, “there is no reason,” he stressed, for the tensions “to lead to some kind of conflict.”

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken suspended a visit to Beijing on Friday that was scheduled to begin over the weekend, the first by a senior US official of that level since 2018, due to the balloon incursion that he considered a “violation of the sovereignty” of his country. That trip, which was never officially announced before his postponement, should have served to try to find ways of understanding between two rivals whose relations have been straining as China has boomed.

At the moment, there are no contacts between the two Administrations to find a new date for the trip, although Blinken has stressed that it is a mere postponement until “the necessary conditions” are met again, and not a definitive cancellation.

In his press conference, the National Security adviser confirmed that three Chinese spy balloons entered US airspace during the term of the previous president, Republican Donald Trump. But then US forces went undetected, leading to what VanHerck described as “a lack of awareness” about that possibility.

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