The Biden administration reportedly planned to keep the Chinese spy balloon that traversed most of the continental United States earlier this year a secret from Congress and the public, which the White House denies, even after the administration only opened up about the aircraft after civilians saw the orb over Montana.
“Before it was spotted publicly, there was the intention to study it and let it pass over and not ever tell anyone about it,” a former senior U.S. official briefed on the incident told NBC News in a report Friday.
Then-Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, the top-ranking White House military adviser, was informed about the balloon in late January 2023, about 10 days after U.S. intelligence officials began tracking it. At that point, the object had entered U.S. airspace in Alaska and it set off an eight-day challenge inside the Biden administration about how to address the balloon, which was the size of three school buses.
A senior Biden administration official denied plans to keep the balloon secret.
“To the extent any of this was kept quiet at all, that was in large part to protect intel equities related to finding and tracking,” the official said. “There was no intention to keep this from Congress at any point.”
The balloon sparked national outrage after a local Montana paper published photos of the aircraft on Feb. 2.
The balloon was eventually shot down in February 2023 off the coast of South Carolina and the FBI studied its remains.
The Pentagon has denied reports that the balloon transmitted data about sensitive sites to Beijing as it flew over the United States, as the U.S. military tried to prevent such activities from happening.