The US military shot down a suspected Chinese reconnaissance balloon off the coast of South Carolina on Saturday after it hovered in US airspace for several days.
Biden has been criticized by Republicans for the balloon’s delay, but there have been reports that at least three such “spy” planes were spotted over the US during former President Trump’s tenure.
Fox News also reported on Sunday that another hot air balloon crashed off the coast of Hawaii late last year.
Here’s what we know about past sightings:
Three Observations During the Trump Administration
Senior U.S. defense and military officials said Sunday that Chinese balloons, like the one shot down by the Biden administration, flew over the U.S. at least three times while Trump was in the White House.
“PRC government surveillance balloons briefly flew over the continental United States at least three times during the previous administration and once, as far as we know, early in this administration, but never during this time period,” a Pentagon spokesman said.
President Trump on Sunday dismissed claims that balloons entered US airspace during his presidency, saying on Truth Social that “China had too much respect for ‘TRUMP’ for this to happen.”
Trump-era national security adviser John Bolton did not categorically state that the balloons did not cross the US, but told Fox News Sunday that he was not aware of any such incidents during his tenure.
Bloomberg reported On Sunday, citing a senior administration official, the US only learned of previous balloon flights after Trump left the White House.
It remains unclear exactly when and how Biden administration intelligence officials became aware of past incidents, but according to the report, they are ready to brief Trump-era officials about the surveillance.
Rep. Mike Waltz (R-Fla.) said On Sunday, Pentagon officials told him that “there have been several incidents with Chinese balloons over the past few years,” including over Florida.
CBS News reported that previous balloons were discovered by China after being pushed by a jet stream.
However, Fox News reported Sunday, citing US officials, that the balloon crashed off the coast of Hawaii four months ago, although it did not say if it had been recovered.
Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) acknowledged on Sunday that the planes had been seen before, but said the length of the latest flight meant there was “no comparison” to previous sightings.
“The fact that it briefly flew over some part of the continental US is one thing, but what we have seen this week is unprecedented, and therefore everyone is reacting the way they are reacting,” Rubio said.
Balloon shot down by Biden has ‘intellectual value’ to US
A balloon shot down off the coast of South Carolina could help the US understand what China is trying to do with balloons.
China said the balloon shot down over the weekend was a weather balloon that reluctantly flew into American airspace. According to the US, this claim is refuted by the found wreckage of the aircraft.
“It was a PRC observation balloon. This reconnaissance balloon purposefully flew over the United States and Canada. And we are sure that he sought to control important military installations,” a senior Defense Department official said Sunday.
“We learned technical details about this balloon and its surveillance capabilities. And I suspect that if we manage to recover parts of the wreckage, we will learn even more, ”the official added.
Senators will be briefed about the downed balloon next week.
Additional balloons spotted in Central and South America
The balloon shot down in South Carolina this weekend is not the only such aircraft operating in the Western Hemisphere, Pentagon officials said Sunday.
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Officials have seen at least one more Chinese observation balloon flying over Central and South America, and additional balloons have been spotted over several countries in Europe and Asia over the past few years.
“These balloons are all part of China’s fleet of balloons designed to conduct surveillance operations that also violate the sovereignty of other countries,” the officials said.