Trump officials saw previous balloons, did not notify White House
It is found that the assessment was concluded in 2020 and it “never got to be assertive” regarding the objects being related to Chinese surveillance, per officials.
A WSJ report citing former US officials shows that suspected objects, believed to be balloons, were never reported to the White House during the time former US president Donald Trump served as president because his officials did not know what they were.
According to the current Biden administration, the objects went undetected by the previous Trump administration. It was also announced that intel officials at the Pentagon were aware of the suspected balloons at the time and believed they belonged to China who was using them for testing radar-jamming systems over sensitive US military locations, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Read more: Chinese balloon, among many more, part of aerial spy program: US intel
An assessment of the objects was concluded in 2020 and it “never got to be assertive” regarding the objects being related to Chinese surveillance, per officials familiar with the matter.
The officials confirmed that the balloons were smaller than those recently detected and shot down last month, and flew for a lesser time and at a lower altitude over the Navy sites in Coronado, California Norfolk, Virginia and Guam.
Former defense secretary knew nothing
The data at the time was gathered by multiple Department of Defense officials which is often shared among agencies, but according to the officials familiar with the matter, it is not a requirement when it comes to highly specialized and sensitive issues like this.
The Biden administration stated that three objects were undetected and undisclosed during the Trump administration. In a statement to the WSJ, former defense secretary from 2019 to 2020, Mark Esper, said he doesn’t recall being told about the suspected objects or anything related to them.
However, a spokesperson at the Pentagon relayed that even though top senior officials were not notified about them, intel analysts were keeping track of the objects.
Back on February 6, the WSJ initially reported on the suspected Chinese balloons during the Trump administration, raising questions about how they were handled and why the latest incident was not avoided. Trump's national security advisors, John Bolton, H.R. McMaster, and Robert O'Brien, have stated that they were unaware of any security breaches linked to Chinese balloons.
A Chinese balloon entered US airspace on January 28 for the first time. It was spotted by civilians hovering over Montana, which is home to several nuclear missile sites, prompting the White House to publicly acknowledge the breach.
A US fighter jet brought down the alleged Chinese surveillance balloon in US territorial waters off the coast of South Carolina, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced on February 4th.
In light of the shoot-down and China's response of possible retaliation, coordinator for Strategic Communications at the National Security Council John Kirby assured that no reason exists to escalate tensions between the US and China over the balloon, and that Secretary of State Antony Blinken's trip to China "was postponed, it was not canceled,”
Read next: US looks to sanction Chinese balloon manufacturer