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Over the past several hours, new details popped into view offering an explanation for why former President Donald Trump never got the chance to shoot down Chinese spy balloons.
These fresh tidbits of information appeared in media reports citing anonymous former U.S. government officials while Trump and high-level members of his administration publicly denied claims from President Joe Biden’s national security team that such vessels flew over the United States on their watch.
Trump-era officials told Bloomberg that assessing unidentified objects took weeks because Chinese surveillance balloons included jamming systems that hid their true intent. The news report then flatly states: “The former president was never presented an opportunity to shoot balloons down.”
A separate report from POLITICO said lower-level officials detected various sorts of balloon activity over U.S. territories in recent years. In citing a former senior Defense Department official, the article said the intelligence community assessed in 2020 that “much smaller” balloons detected off of Virginia’s coast were Chinese radar-jamming devices.
The feud airing out between Trump alumni and the Biden administration began after the U.S. government publicly acknowledged a suspected Chinese reconnaissance balloon hovering at a high altitude over the country last week. A fighter jet shot down the balloon on Saturday, only after it flew over the coast of the Carolinas as the Pentagon raised concerns about falling debris over land. A salvage operation by the United States followed. China denies the vessel was a spy balloon, instead claiming it was a weather balloon that was blown off course.
The United States has shot down the high altitude balloon from China at the centre of a spying scandal. President Joe Biden ordered the strike, the spectacular show of force happening live on TV. https://t.co/b3nAU1JF34 @telester #7NEWS pic.twitter.com/ZUJ3paV47B
— 7NEWS Australia (@7NewsAustralia) February 5, 2023
Throughout this national security concern, Republicans and members of Trump’s administration took to the airwaves to chastise Biden for allowing the balloon to get as far as it did. That’s when a senior U.S. defense official first said Chinese government surveillance balloons “transited the continental United States briefly at least three times during the prior administration and once that we know of at the beginning of this administration, but never for this duration of time.”
Trump-era officials, including former Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe and former Defense Secretary Mark Esper, cast doubt on this claim. Trump flatly denied it. “This never happened. It would have never happened,” Trump told Fox News.
What followed were reports citing a senior Biden official claiming Chinese spy balloons over the United States during the Trump administration were discovered after Trump left office. Then it was revealed the Pentagon briefed Congress about sightings near Florida and Texas. “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,” said Rep. Mike Waltz (R-FL).
An official told CNN the intelligence community is ready to offer briefings to top Trump administration officials about their findings.