Today's D Brief: NORAD missed prior balloons, General says; Recovery effort, in photos; Border politics on the Hill; SOTU preview; And a bit more.

How did China’s previous surveillance balloons travel undetected over the United States? A top U.S. military official admitted Monday that Chinese surveillance balloons flew over U.S. territory or airspace at least four times over the past few years, stretching back to the prior White House administration. 

“The intel community, after the fact, [as] I believe has been briefed already, assessed those threats to additional means of collection from additional means and made us aware of those balloons that were previously approaching North America or transited North America,” the NORAD and NORTHCOM chief, Air Force Gen. Glen VanHerck, told reporters at the Pentagon on Monday. 

“Every day as a NORAD commander it's my responsibility to detect threats to North America,” he said, and then admitted bluntly, “I will tell you that we did not detect those threats. And that's a domain awareness gap that we have to figure out. But I don't want to go in[to] further detail.” Still, VanHerck said, the Defense Department took “maximum protective measures while the balloon transited across the United States” to prevent intelligence collection.

Defense One’s Patrick Tucker writes: That suggests the use of lasers or other forms of directed energy to essentially blind, or dazzle, the camera lens on the balloon. However, VanHerck said he would not comment on the “non-kinetic effects” they used to limit intelligence collection until he had spoken to Congress. And that closed-door briefing appears to be scheduled for Thursday among House lawmakers, according to Politico

Developing: U.S. lawmakers are reportedly trying to draft a resolution condemning China for its balloon overflight; that resolution appears to be tilting away from one-sided GOP anger and into possible bipartisan disdain. Again, Politico has that story from Monday evening, here

Also: The Air Force sent U-2 spy planes over the Chinese balloon, The War Zone reported Monday, and cautioned, “It's not immediately clear all the points along the balloon's voyage that U-2s were present.” 

View images of the ongoing recovery effort near the South Carolina coast via DVIDS, which gathered about a half dozen photos, here

Related reading: 

From Defense One

China’s Balloon May Have Taught Pentagon More Than Beijing Learned From It, General Says // Patrick Tucker: Still, NORAD’s chief says the U.S. military took “precautions,” including “non-kinetic effects.”

Welcome to this Tuesday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Jennifer Hlad. If you’re not already subscribed to this newsletter, you can do that here. On this day in 1962, and four years after the Cuban revolution, the U.S. banned all Cuban exports. 

House lawmakers are debating fentanyl stats and Mexican drug cartels during the 118th Congress’s first Oversight Committee hearing on Capitol Hill. Two Customs and Border Protection chiefs are fielding questions about the flow of drugs across the border, but also the growing number of drug seizures along America’s southern border.
According to GOP committee chairman Rep. James Comey of Kentucky, “The state of our border is in crisis,” he decried in his opening statement. On top of soaring migrant apprehensions at the border, especially in the single adult category in 2022, “Cartels are leveraging the chaos at the border” as well, Comey alleged. By his way of thinking, the president is solely to blame for all of it. “And given [that] over half a million people have evaded apprehension entirely, the national security risks are extremely high,” he said.
For Democratic ranking member Jamie Raskin of Maryland, “Our basic problem is a political one: legal channels of immigration have been choked off in the wake of Congressional failure to act in bipartisan fashion on immigration policy…Rather than work with Democrats on these efforts,” Raskin continued, “the extreme MAGA forces in the Republican party have chosen to abandon the pro-immigration stance of Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan and instead spread fear about a ‘foreign invasion,’ paranoia about the racist and antisemitic ‘Great Replacement’ mythology, and disinformation about fentanyl—the vast majority of which is brought into our country by American smugglers working for the international drug cartels and traveling through lawful ports of entry.”
Oversight Democrats also tweeted a bit of a rhetorical attack ahead of the hearing, writing, “Good morning and good luck to everyone except @GOPoversight members who are using today's hearing to amplify white nationalist conspiracy theories instead of a comprehensive solution to protect our borders and strengthen our immigration system.”
Comey was not interested in those allegations; and the first several minutes of his hearing involved the chairman lecturing members on decorum, and celebrating his new powers as leader of the oversight committee. Catch the rest of that hearing on YouTube, here.

Lastly: President Joe Biden delivers the annual State of the Union address this evening. It will be his third as commander-in-chief, and his first with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy behind him. “Unity” is the big theme in Biden’s address, according to White House officials previewing the big evening.
“[D]elivering on the sacred obligation to veterans” is one of four big goals the president will share with lawmakers. Three others include “ending cancer as we know it; tackling the mental health crisis; and beating the opioid and overdose epidemic.” Read more about each one, here.
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