The commander overseeing US forces in North America said Monday that Chinese balloon threats have gone undetected by the United States in the past, highlighting an «awareness gap» that needs to be filled.

Air Force Gen. Glen VanHerck, commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command, better known as NORAD, and US Northern Command, was asked at a briefing if his command had been involved in the follow up on previous balloons and whether he could identify differences between the most recent case and other balloons dating back to the Trump administration.

“I will tell them that we did not detect those threats. And that is a domain knowledge gap that we need to address,” VanHerck said.

VanHerck, who made the comment after providing an update on recovery operations following the downing of the Chinese high-altitude balloon on Saturday, declined to provide further details.

He later said that by tracking the balloon through US territory, the United States «used multiple capabilities to ensure that we collected and took advantage of the opportunity to close the intelligence gaps.»

A senior Biden administration official said Sunday that Chinese surveillance balloons had flown over the mainland United States before, once during the Biden administration and at least three times during former President Donald Trump’s tenure, a discovery. which was done after he left office.

Military leaders and administration officials have not provided a precise timetable on previous balloon flights or details about where exactly the aircraft flew. And it’s not clear why the US was unable to detect some of the balloon flights until after the fact.

Once officials concluded that the previously unidentified sightings were Chinese spy balloons, they chose to keep that determination secret to hide from China how they had unmasked the balloon flights, a US official with knowledge of the matter said.

VanHerck said the US military does not have the authority to collect intelligence inside the US, but an exception was granted to monitor the Chinese aircraft.

“In this case, specific authorities were given to collect intelligence against the balloon specifically and we used specific capabilities to do so,” he said.

VanHerck said the most recent balloon, which was about the height of a building 20 stories or more Twice as long as the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree 2022it carried a payload similar in size to a regional airliner.

He said the balloon’s large size and payload played a role in the «decision-making process» to delay shooting it down until it was clear of land and over the Atlantic Ocean.

The debris field, facing South Carolina, was about 1,500 square feet, or about 15 football fields by 15 football fields, VanHerck said.

During an assessment before the balloon was shot down, VanHerck said, officials had to consider «including the possibility that the explosives would detonate and destroy the balloon.» He said that he could not confirm if the balloon was carrying explosives.

“We don’t associate the potential of having explosives with a threat to drop weapons, that kind of thing, but out of an abundance of caution, plenty of security not just for our military personnel and the public, we have to make assumptions like that,” VanHerck said.

President Joe Biden has faced criticism from Republicans and some Democrats around the globe, with many Republican lawmakers arguing that he should have struck him down sooner. Some congressional Republicans have also accused the Biden administration of being unprepared, given that officials were aware of previous balloons traveling over the US.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Turner, R-Ohio, said Sunday on NBC News’ «Meet the Press» that the administration «didn’t just fail here; they didn’t prepare after the first time this It happened during this administration.»

A classified briefing for all senators is scheduled for Thursday, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y, said.

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters Monday that the Biden administration had communicated with Trump officials about the previous balloons.

“I cannot speak of the flow of information in the previous administration. I can tell you that we reached out to key officials from the previous administration and gave them briefings on the forensics we did,» Kirby said. «And we expressed our willingness to guide them through what we learned.»

julie tsirkin, Liz Brown-Kaiser and they shine contributed.