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Former Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe rejected the claim that three Chinese spy balloons “transited” the United States during Donald Trump’s presidency.
The suspected Chinese balloon that traversed across the lower 48 states before being shot down off the coast of the Carolinas on Saturday represented an “unprecedented national security blunder of incalculable damage,” Ratcliffe said during a Fox News interview on Sunday.
Anchor Maria Bartiromo then asked Ratcliffe to respond to what she said was the Department of Defense claiming three Chinese spy balloons entered U.S. airspace during the Trump administration, they were not shot down, and they were not disclosed.
“It’s not true. I can refute it,” Ratcliffe responded. He said his view is backed by other Trump administration officials, including former Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who said he does not recall Chinese surveillance balloons traversing the skies over the United States.
On Saturday, a senior U.S. defense official 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,” according to CNN.
Ratcliffe insisted the American people can refute the Biden administration’s claim for themselves.
“Do you remember during the Trump administration when photographers on the ground and commercial airline pilots were talking about a spy balloon over the United States that people could look up and see even with the naked eye and that the media that hated Donald Trump wasn’t reporting? I don’t remember that either because it didn’t happen,” he said.
Trump himself issued a denial on his social media platform on Sunday.
“The Chinese Balloon situation is a disgrace, just like the Afghanistan horror show, and everything else surrounding the grossly incompetent Biden Administration,” Trump posted to Truth Social. “They are only good at cheating in elections, and disinformation — and now they are putting out that a Balloon was put up by China during the Trump Administration, in order to take the ‘heat’ off the slow moving Biden fools. China had too much respect for ‘TRUMP’ for this to have happened, and it NEVER did. JUST FAKE DISINFORMATION!”
The U.S. government first publicly acknowledged a suspected reconnaissance balloon on Thursday as it was spotted over Billings, Montana, near a military base that houses 150 Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles after it traveled above the Aleutian Islands and through Canada.
While China’s government claimed the balloon was a “civilian airship used for research, mainly meteorological purposes” and essentially got blown off course, the Pentagon rejected that explanation on Friday, calling it a “maneuverable” surveillance balloon. The Pentagon also expressed concern that shooting the balloon down over land could create a debris field that would endanger people below.
The balloon was destroyed off the coast of South Carolina on Saturday, a moment caught on video. An F-22 Raptor shot down the balloon with one air-to-air A9X sidewinder missile, according to a senior U.S. military official. The Pentagon said a recovery operation would follow. China’s foreign ministry responded by condemning the United States for “an excessive reaction that seriously violates international convention” and warned that Beijing “retains the right to respond further.”
Ratcliffe, a former U.S. congressman who served as the nation’s spy chief from May 2020 until the end of Trump’s administration in January 2021, called it an “incredibly successful intelligence operation” for China. He also said other foreign adversaries such as Iran, Russia, and North Korea are watching and likely “thrilled” by the possibilities this scenario presents them.