Chinese surveillance balloons during Trump, early Biden admin not spotted by NORAD, commander says

Peter Zay/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) — Previous Chinese surveillance balloon incidents that occurred during the Trump administration and early under the Biden administration were not spotted by NORAD at the time, Air Force Gen. Glen VanHerck, commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command, told reporters Monday.

“We did not detect those threats. And that’s a domain awareness gap that we have to figure out,” VanHerck said.

VanHerck said that U.S. intelligence made NORAD aware of the threat posed by the surveillance balloons after the fact through “additional means of collection and made us aware of those balloons that were previously approaching North America or transit in North America.”

The military commander would not specify what techniques were employed by U.S. intelligence to determine the capabilities of the balloons.

VanHerck also provided a new insight as to why the balloon was not shot down as it approached Alaska in late January noting that his “assessment that this balloon did not present a physical military threat to North America and therefore, I could not take immediate action because it was not demonstrating a hostile act or hostile intent.”

Senior U.S. officials have described China as having built up a fleet of surveillance balloons that have crossed into sovereign airspace over five continents.

U.S. officials had told ABC News of prior incursions near Hawaii and Guam last February, and in the wake of the balloon being shot down off the South Carolina coast this Saturday, senior administration officials said that there had also been three additional incursions during the Trump administration.

VanHerck’s acknowledgement that NORAD had not spotted those incursions would help explain why several former senior Trump to previous brief incursions denied having been aware of any balloon incursions.

During the audio briefing with reporters, VanHerck said that allowing the balloon to transit across the United States provided “a potential opportunity for us to collect Intel where we had gaps on prior balloons.”

“This gave us the opportunity to assess what they were actually doing, what kind of capabilities existed on the balloon, what kind of transmission capabilities existed. And I think you’ll see in the future that that timeframe was well worth its value to collect over,” said VanHerck.

The general would not describe how that intelligence was gathered while the balloon was in flight, making only a vague reference to the U.S. using “multiple capabilities to ensure we collected and utilized the opportunity to close Intel gaps.”

Mitigation efforts were taken to minimize intelligence collection as the balloon flew over Malmstrom AFB in Montana and Offutt AFB in Nebraska, according to VanHerck

“Just because we had the time to do that. And we also had the time to put together an effort of our own to learn about this particular balloon and what its capabilities are, and we’re going to get more information from the recovery,” John Kirby, the National Security Council’s coordinator for strategic communications, said in a separate briefing with reporters.

VanHerck described the balloon itself as being 200 feet tall carrying a payload of intelligence-gathering equipment that weighed “a couple thousand pounds,” which he compared in size and length to a regional passenger jet.

Kirby described the balloon as having a limited ability to maneuver using propellers and a rudder though he added that “the most important navigational vector was the jet stream itself, the winds at such a high altitude.

The recovery operation for the remnants of the balloon and its payload is being carried out six miles off the coast of South Carolina in U.S. territorial waters in an area described as being 1,500 yards by 1,500 yards.

U.S. Navy and Coast Guard ships are at the scene and have already recovered debris that was floating on the surface of the water according to Kirby.

While rough waters limited the recovery efforts by divers on Sunday, a Navy salvage ship is expected to be at the debris location in coming days.

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Major recall on ready-to-eat sandwiches, salads, snacks and more due to listeria concerns

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(NEW YORK) — More than 400 types of ready-to-eat food products sold under multiple brand labels have been recalled over possible listeria contamination.

Fresh Ideation Food Group LLC announced the recall in a press release posted on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration website Friday. The impacted products include ready-to-eat sandwiches, salads, yogurts, wraps and other items sold in nine states and the District of Columbia from Jan. 24 through 30 “in retail locations, vending machines, and during travel with transportation providers,” according to the company.

The Baltimore-based food manufacturer said that no illnesses have been reported, as of time of publication.

Fresh Ideation Food Group initiated the recall after “environmental samples tested positive for Listeria monocytogenes,” the company said in its recall announcement.

The affected products were sold under 13 different brand labels.

Click here for the full listing and product information from the FDA.

“All recalled products have a Fresh Creative Cuisine label and/or identifier on the bottom of the label with the Fresh Creative Cuisine name and a fresh through or sell through date ranging from January 31, 2023 through February 6, 2023,” the company stated in Friday’s announcement.

The company has urged consumers who purchased the products to contact Fresh Ideation Food Group LLC by phone at (855) 969-3338.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, listeria can cause severe illness “when the bacteria spread beyond the gut to other parts of the body” after a person consumes contaminated food. Those at higher risk include pregnant people, those aged 65 or older, or anyone who has a weakened immune system, the CDC says.

“If you are pregnant, it can cause pregnancy loss, premature birth, or a life-threatening infection in your newborn,” the CDC states on its website. “Other people can be infected with Listeria, but they rarely become seriously ill.”

According to the CDC, anyone infected with listeria may experience “mild food poisoning symptoms” such as diarrhea or fever, and many recover without antibiotic treatment.

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Ozzy Osbourne reacts to Grammy wins: “I’m one lucky motherf***er”

Epic Records

Ozzy Osbourne has shared his reaction to winning two awards at Sunday’s Grammys.

The Prince of Darkness earned Best Rock Album for his latest solo effort, Patient Number 9, and Best Metal Performance for “Degradation Rules,” featuring Black Sabbath‘s Tony Iommi.

In a press statement reflecting on his Grammy victory, Ozzy declares, “I’m one lucky motherf***er.”

“I was blessed to work with some of the greatest musicians in the world and Andrew Watt as my producer on this album,” Ozzy says. “Winning the Best Metal Performance was equally gratifying being that the song featured my longtime friend and Black Sabbath bandmate, Tony Iommi.”

The Grammy wins were undoubtedly a bright spot during a tough week for Ozzy, who announced last Wednesday that his long-delayed European and United Kingdom tour would be canceled due to the lingering effects from a fall he suffered in 2019, which has required extensive surgery and recovery time.

“Never would I have imagined that my touring days would have ended this way,” he said.

Ozzy was also nominated for Best Rock Song and Best Rock Performance with the Patient Number 9 title track, which features the late Jeff Beck. Americana artist Brandi Carlile won both awards with her song “Broken Horses.”

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Mitchell Tenpenny debuts new music as he sells out two nights at the Ryman

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This weekend, Mitchell Tenpenny got to experience something many artists only dream of: selling out two nights in a row at Nashville’s iconic Ryman Auditorium.

“I’ve been able to check a lot of things off my bucket list because you’ve streamed the music and supported me, like selling out back-to-back nights at the Ryman,” the Nashville native told the hometown crowd. “You helped us get back on country radio and have changed our lives forever.”

Mitchell’s label surprised him with a plaque marking the fact that his latest #1, “Truth About You,” has gone Platinum. 

The “Drunk Me” hitmaker also took advantage of the chance to welcome some special guests and debut some new music. Christian icon Steven Curtis Chapman joined him onstage to debut a new version of his hit “Don’t Lose Heart,” a song that’s special to Mitchell because his mother is currently battling breast cancer. You’ll be able to stream the new duet version February 17. 

Mitchell and his wife, Meghan Patrick, teamed up to do “Long As You Let Me,” while Alana Springsteen did her “goodbye looks good on you” collaboration with Mitchell, which will be on her debut album.

Newcomer Tyler Braden and Mitchell continue on the This is the Heavy Tour through the end of the month, which already boasts eight sold-out shows.

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Van Morrison announces three-night stand in Las Vegas

courtesy of Live Nation

Van Morrison is the latest artist headed to Las Vegas. The “Moondance” singer just announced a three-night stand at the Zappos Theater at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino.

The three shows are set for September 6, 8 and 9, with tickets going on sale Friday, February 10, at 10 a.m. PT.

The new dates come as the 77-year-old Morrison is getting ready to release his new studio album, Moving On Skiffle, on March 10. In addition to the Vegas dates, he has a few European shows lined up to promote the release, including March 13, 14 and 15 at The Stables in Milton Keynes, England, and April 6 and 7 at Whitla Hall in Belfast, Ireland.

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‘The Last of Us’ to drop early episode to dodge the Super Bowl

HBO/Liane Hentscher

The forthcoming fifth episode of HBO’s hit video game adaptation The Last of Us will drop two days early, on Friday, February 10, at 9 p.m. ET, instead of its traditional Sunday slot.

The swap out is only being done for this upcoming weekend to avoid any lost viewers to Super Bowl LVII.

Starring Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey, The Last of Us has been scoring impressive numbers on both HBO and HBO Max since its debut on January 15; the show’s acclaimed third chapter, titled “Long, Long Time,” attracted 6.4 million viewers — up 12% from its second episode.

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Meagan Good reflects on shooting ‘Harlem’ TV series amid her divorce

Emily V. Aragones/Prime Video

Season 2 of Harlem debuted Friday on Prime Video, and shooting the episodes was extremely emotional for series star Meagan Good because she was going through a divorce from DeVon Franklin.

They filed legal papers in December 2021 during production on the new season as they were approaching their 10-year anniversary.

“That was kind of like a tough week, and then right after that we officially got divorced,” the Think Like A Man star told USA Today.

“There’s a scene when I’m crying in the first episode … that night was one of the toughest nights,” Good continues. “I could not wait to shoot that scene because I was like, I need a good cry that I’m saving for this moment. And there is something kind of cathartic about being able to release in your character and to have life experiences that only make you a better actor and make you more intuitive.”

Now Meagan is focused on Harlem season 2, as four female friends in their 30s try to balance their personal and professional lives in New York City.

Like Good, her character, Camille, was trying to cope with difficult times.

“She was going through a moment of self-discovery and she was having moments where she felt like she failed and then she also was like, ‘Oh, I gotta pick myself back up and keep moving forward and fight for that joy and continue to learn and self-reflect,'” the 41-year-old actress says.

Meagan is finding her joy not only in acting, but also working behind the camera, as she directed season 2’s second episode. 

“I have such a joy in directing that it doesn’t matter how sad I am, if I get to direct I’m a happy girl,” she says.

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Chinese surveillance balloon recovery underway amid GOP attacks

Peter Zay/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) — U.S. Navy vessels on Monday swarmed a widespread debris field with divers and cranes to retrieve pieces of the suspected Chinese surveillance balloon shot down by a U.S. fighter aircraft off the coast of South Carolina on Saturday afternoon.

The balloon had been traveling across the continental U.S. since at least Tuesday with the White House facing mounting questions and political blowback as to why the balloon was allowed to cross the country in the first place, especially as the U.S. faces tensions with China.

Republicans continue to condemn President Joe Biden for not having ordered the balloon shot down earlier, but Biden said Saturday he did ask for such action, until the American military advised him they should wait until the balloon wasn’t over civilian territory.

“I told them to shoot it down on Wednesday. They said to me let’s wait for the safest place to do it,” Biden told reporters.

White House spokesperson John Kirby spoke with reporters Monday afternoon to give an update on recovery efforts and to defend the decision to allow the balloon to traverse over the country.

The debris field is roughly “15 football fields by 15 football fields,” he said, and some debris was recovered “off the surface of the sea,” but weather conditions weren’t favorable on Sunday.

“Our efforts to surveil this balloon and what we’re going to learn from the recovery will prove to be valuable,” Kirby said, and the fact the balloon took time to travel under tracking will give the U.S. “clarity” on the balloons’ capabilities and China’s intentions.

Suspected Chinese spy balloons flew over the continental U.S. three times under former President Donald Trump — but the Biden White House said over the weekend that Trump and other top officials weren’t aware at the time.

“This information was discovered after the prior administration left,” according to senior Biden administration officials.

“From every indication that we have, that that was for brief periods of time — nothing at all like what we saw last week, in terms of duration,” Kirby said Monday, asked about the other instances but offering limited information.

House Republicans have promised a slew of investigations into the balloon’s handling. Some Republican lawmakers are weighing introducing a resolution Tuesday condemning Biden’s response — right before his State of the Union address — but no decision has been made.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, in a statement Sunday, said the Biden administration “reacted at first too indecisively and then too late.”

“We should not have let the People’s Republic of China make a mockery of our airspace. It defies belief to suggest there was nowhere between the Aleutian Islands of Alaska and the coast of Carolina where this balloon could have been shot down right away without endangering Americans or Canadians. This was a reminder of the PRC’s brazenness and President Biden missed the opportunity to defend our sovereignty, send a message of strength, and bolster deterrence,” McConnell said.

He said he hopes Biden’s “belated decision to finally do the right thing carries over into his soon-to-be-released annual budget request,” adding, “Whether it’s spy balloons or spy satellites, hypersonic weapons or stealth aircraft, massive naval construction or nuclear stockpile expansion, China’s military modernization effort is no joke.”

In a statement on Sunday, U.S. Northern Command said the balloon was brought down “within sovereign U.S. airspace and over U.S. territorial waters to protect civilians while maximizing our ability to recover the payload.”

China’s Vice Foreign Minister Xie Feng, meanwhile, lodged “solemn representations” with the U.S. Embassy in China on Sunday over the “use of force” against what it maintains is a “civilian unmanned airship.”

“What the U.S. has done has seriously impacted and damaged both sides’ efforts and progress in stabilizing Sino-U.S. relations since the Bali meeting.”

He said the U.S. has “obviously overreacted” and that China “resolutely opposes and strongly protests this.”

The so-called “Gang of Eight” of congressional leadership is still slated to have a briefing on the balloon this week as Republicans warn Biden of investigations to come over his handling of the matter.

Montana Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat who chairs the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, also announced Friday that he’ll hold a subcommittee hearing on the ballon.

It’s unclear when Secretary of State Antony Blinken will move forward with plans for high-level meetings in Beijing postponed last week as relations with China remain tense.

“This balloon incident has done nothing to help improve U.S-China bilateral relations,” Kirby said earlier. “And now it’s just not the appropriate time for us to have those sort of face to face discussions with them on larger diplomatic issues.”

ABC News’ Luis Martinez, Ben Gittleson, Karson Yiu, Allison Pecorin, Justin Gomez and Katherine Faulders contributed to this report.

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Nearly 150 New York City police officers violated department rules during 2020 George Floyd protests: Report

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(NEW YORK) — Nearly 150 New York City police officers violated department rules during 2020 protests over the death of George Floyd, according to a new report issued Monday by the Civilian Complaint Review Board.

The Board substantiated misconduct against 146 officers. Most of the violations involved excessive force, including improper use of batons and pepper spray. Other violations involved discourtesy or offensive language.

The report said there were hundreds more allegations the CCRB could not investigate because officers wore bands over their badge numbers or refused to be interviewed remotely.

“The Black Lives Matter protests that occurred in the summer of 2020 were massive in scale, but not unprecedented in nature,” said interim CCRB chairwoman Arva Rice. “Given what is happening across the country regarding reproductive rights, immigration, affordable housing, and police brutality, people will continue to protest for their rights. It is key for New York to know how to best respond to protests, especially protests against police misconduct.”

The NYPD said the substantiated allegations amount to less than 15% of complaints.

The department also objected to the way the CCRB characterized its response to the protests, including a failure to acknowledge that officers were working under sustained, dangerous conditions.

“At the peak of the protests, there were more than 22,000 NYPD officers deployed in a single day, attempting to facilitate people’s rights to peaceful expression all while addressing acts of lawlessness including wide-scale rioting, mass chaos, violence, and destruction,” the NYPD said.

The department continued, adding, “Officers were faced with perpetrators who were looting, setting fires, and destroying property. During this period, more than 400 uniformed members of the NYPD were injured, with over 250 of them hospitalized, and nearly 300 NYPD vehicles were vandalized, including several that were destroyed by arson from the throwing of Molotov cocktails.”

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Alright, alright, uh-huh: Matthew McConaughey to voice Elvis in animated action series for Netflix

Courtesy Netflix

Elvis Presley may have changed rock ‘n’ roll, but did you know he walked on the moon? That’s just one of the adventures The King gets up to in the trailer to Netflix’s adult animated series Agent Elvis, with Oscar winner Matthew McConaughey voicing Presley.

The series, co-produced by Priscilla Presley, posits that Elvis “trades his jumpsuit for a jetpack” after he’s actually recruited into “a secret government spy program to battle the dark forces that threaten the country he loves — all while holding down his day job.”

McConaughey is also producing the project, which was shepherded by Archer veteran Mike Arnold. Indeed, the animation and madcap action definitely share some DNA with that other cartoon spy show: At one point, Elvis dispatches a baddie with a “really nice pen” and also sees an interrogation suspect murdered by a chimp secret agent holding a revolver.

(Trailer contains uncensored profanity.)

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