Chinese spy balloons have previously breached US airspace on at least four occasions, US officials have claimed.
Three overflew the US between 2016 and 2020 during Donald Trump’s administration, and another was spotted at the start of Joe Biden’s term.
The sightings were recently reported by several US outlets, which referred to US presidential administration officials who reportedly wished to remain anonymous.
“This information was discovered after the prior administration left. The intelligence community is prepared to offer key officials from the Trump administration briefings on [China’s] surveillance program,” one official was quoted as saying by Politico.
Officials from the previous administration, including former Defense Secretary Mark Esper and former National Security Adviser John Bolton said they were not aware of the breaches, while Trump called the reports “fake disinformation”, according to CNN.
The reports were confirmed by the US Department of Defense, which said that the presence of the balloons was discovered following the change of administration.
“I will tell you that we did not detect those threats. And that’s a domain awareness gap that we have to figure out. But I don’t want to go in further detail,” Glen VanHerck, commander of North American Aerospace Defense Command said during a briefing on February 6, 2023.
VanHerck did not disclose how the information regarding the previous balloon overflights had been discovered.
A Chinese-made high-altitude balloon was discovered in the US airspace on January 28, 2023, and tracked across the US mainland.
It was shot down by a United States Air Force (USAF) F-22 fighter jet on February 5, 2023, while over the ocean off the coast of South Carolina.
According to US officials, the balloon was carrying surveillance equipment. However, China denied the allegations, saying it was a weather balloon.