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US didn’t detect 4 previous Chinese balloons until after they were gone

Chinese President Xi Jinping. (Lan Hongguang/Xinhua/Sipa USA/TNS)
February 06, 2023

Chinese surveillance balloons flew over the U.S. three times under President Donald Trump and once under President Joe Biden before the latest one made national headlines. Sometimes, they flew undetected.

A senior Biden administration official confirmed the previous flyovers after an F-22 shot down the latest balloon Saturday off the coast of North Carolina. China claims the balloon, which flew near sensitive nuclear sites while it lingered over the U.S. for nearly a week, was a weather research balloon that blew off course.

At least one Chinese spy balloon flew over portions of Texas and Florida under Trump, and four months ago, one crashed into the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii, officials told Fox News.

When it first announced the latest balloon on Thursday, the Pentagon said “this kind of balloon activity” had been “observed previously over the past several years.” Officials later said much of the information on those prior flights was put together after the balloons were already gone, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Three balloon breaches during Trump’s administration were brief, and one under Biden occurred early in his term, one official said, according to the Journal. But prior to the latest balloon, one had “never” lingered over the U.S. “for this duration of time,” a senior defense official said after the shootdown Saturday.

Trump and several of his former top officials have denied any previous balloons during their tenure, Fox News reported.

Administration officials did not elaborate on how the previous balloons were detected later, citing the need to protect their methods, the Journal reported.

“This information was discovered after the prior administration left,” said one of the officials. Intelligence agencies are getting ready to brief key Trump administration figures on the previous balloons, the official said.

The latest balloon was first detected on Jan. 28 near Alaska, the Journal reported. NORAD tracked it crossing over Canada and into northern Idaho by Jan. 31. It was first announced to the public Thursday, Feb. 2.

China on Monday confirmed that a second balloon reported to be flying over Latin America is one of its own. A foreign ministry spokesperson said it is an “unmanned airship” used for flight testing that also blew “far from its planned course.”