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US didn't know about Chinese balloons during Trump years until later

Jenny Leonard, Jennifer Jacobs, Bloomberg News on

Published in News & Features

Chinese surveillance balloons flew over the continental United States at least three times during the Trump years, according to a senior administration official, but their incursions weren’t discovered until after Joe Biden took office.

That gap may help explain why the former president, Donald Trump, and the senior officials who worked for him, denied that Chinese airships entered US airspace on their watch.

Intelligence officials from the Biden administration are willing to provide former Trump national security officials with a briefing about the Chinese surveillance efforts, according to the official, who discussed intelligence matters on the condition of anonymity.

In an interview Sunday with Fox News, Trump accused his successor of claiming the Chinese overflights during his tenure because “they look so bad.”

“This never happened,” he said. “It would have never happened.”

The three incidents — and a fourth earlier in the Biden administration — were described by the administration official as brief - unlike the overflight last week that saw a balloon fly a lengthy path crosscutting the mainland U.S. from Idaho to South Carolina before ultimately being shot down over the Atlantic.


Trump and other senior Republicans have criticized the Biden administration’s decision to wait until the balloon was over the ocean to shoot it down, more than four days after it was spotted for the second time entering U.S. airspace.

Biden said he instructed the military to shoot the balloon down on Wednesday, but that the Pentagon recommended they wait to better observe the balloon’s intelligence capabilities and eliminate the risk that falling debris could harm individuals or property on the ground.

The U.S. is currently working to recover debris from the waters off the Atlantic coast, though administration officials say they are confident it was a spy balloon.

China claimed that the balloon was a civilian craft doing weather research that was accidentally blown off course.

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