A senior administration official told CNN on Sunday that the transit of three suspected Chinese spy balloons over the continental United States during the Trump administration was only discovered after President Joe Biden took office.
The official did not specify when or how those incidents were discovered.
The intelligence community, according to the official, is ready to brief key Trump administration officials on the Chinese surveillance programme, which the Biden administration believes has been deployed in countries across five continents over the last several years.
Following the announcement last week by the Biden administration that a suspected Chinese spy balloon was hovering over Montana, the Pentagon stated that similar balloon incidents had occurred during the Trump administration. Former Trump administration Defense Secretary Mark Esper told CNN on Friday that the statement “surprised” him.
“I don’t recall anyone ever coming into my office or reading anything about the Chinese having a surveillance balloon above the US,” he said.
This week, former President Donald Trump said on Truth Social that reports of Chinese balloons transiting the US during his administration were “fake disinformation.”
According to a Biden administration official, the incidents were discovered after the Trump administration had already left. However, the official did not specify how or when those incidents were discovered.
According to CNN, the Pentagon briefed Congress on previous Chinese surveillance balloons that flew near Texas and Florida during the Trump administration.
In a statement to CNN, Rep. Michael Waltz confirmed that “currently, we understand there were incursions near Florida and Texas, but we don’t have clarity on what kind of systems were on these balloons or if these incursions occurred in territorial waters or overflew land.”
Another Chinese spy balloon briefly transited the continental US at the start of the Biden administration, according to a senior administration official. The balloon shot down by the US military on Saturday, however, was unique in both its path down from Alaska and Canada into the US, as well as the length of time it loitered over sensitive missile sites in Montana, officials said.
According to a senior administration official, the investigation into the capabilities of the balloon shot down on Saturday is still ongoing. However, “closely observing the balloon in flight has allowed us to better understand this Chinese programme and further confirmed its mission was surveillance,” the official added.
Republicans have chastised the Biden administration for failing to shoot down the balloon after it was discovered over Alaska on January 28. According to CNN, House Republicans are considering passing a resolution condemning the Biden administration’s handling of the balloon this week.