Biden offers to brief Trump team on Chinese spy balloons they failed to catch

The Biden administration has offered to brief former Donald Trump officials about the Chinese spy balloons that they failed to catch during his administration.

The Pentagon announced on Saturday that three suspected Chinese surveillance balloons travelled over the continental US during Mr Trump’s time in office.

Among the three separate encounters, one balloon is believed to have travelled over parts of Texas and Florida.

None of the balloons were shot down and the American people were not made aware of the situation.

A fourth balloon also reportedly entered US airspace earlier on in the Biden administration.

Expanding on those comments on Monday, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the Biden administration was able to retroactively identify the presence of Chinese balloons in US airspace during Trump’s term after the US “[enhanced] our surveillance of our territorial airspace.”

“We enhanced our capacity to be able to detect things that the Trump administration was unable to detect,” he added.

“We were able to go back and look at the historical patterns” and uncover “multiple instances” during the Trump administration in which Chinese surveillance balloons traversed American airspace and territory,” Mr Sullivan said, speaking at an event hosted by the US Global Leadership Coalition.

Mr Trump repeatedly denied the US intelligence about China’s surveillance under his watch and has instead taken aim at President Joe Biden over his handling of the spy balloon which flew over Montana last week – which has now been shot down by the US military.

In a rant on his Truth Social platform, the former president flatly denied the Pentagon’s statement, branding it “fake disinformation”.

“China had too much respect for ‘TRUMP’ for this to have happened, and it NEVER did. JUST FAKE DISINFORMATION!” he fumed.

He doubled down on this insistence in an interview with Fox News on Sunday claiming: “This never happened. It would have never happened.

“And if it did, we would have shot it down immediately.”

Several members of the Trump administration also said that they weren’t aware of any of the three incidents, with former Defense Secretary Mark Esper saying he was “surprised” by the Pentagon’s announcement.

The Chinese spy balloon is shot down above the Atlantic Ocean (Chad Fish)
The Chinese spy balloon is shot down above the Atlantic Ocean (Chad Fish)

Now, a senior Biden administration official has revealed that the Trump administration wasn’t even aware of the three potential surveillance balloons at the time.

Instead, they were only discovered after Mr Biden took office from the one-term, twice-impeached Mr Trump.

It is not clear exactly how or when the previous incidents were discovered but the official told CNN that the spy balloons are believed to have been used by China across five continents dating back several years.

The official that the intelligence community would be willing to provide briefings to top Trump administration officials about the incidents.

Congress was also briefed about the past balloon incidents over the weekend.

The potential embarrassment for the former president comes as both he and Republicans slammed the Biden administration’s response to the spy balloon which was spotted over Montana last week.

The balloon was first sighted over Billings, Montana, on Wednesday – which is home to US nuclear missile sites – and was confirmed by a Pentagon official on Friday. The balloon had first flown over the Aleutian Islands, through Canada, and into Montana.

At the time of the sighting, the Biden administration declined to shoot it down – based on the recommendations of the military as it flew over populated areas – but officials said that steps had been taken to protect against the collection of sensitive information.

On Saturday, the balloon was shot down over the Atlantic ocean off the coast of North and South Carolina.

Airspace in the area was closed temporarily for the operation, with Mr Biden giving it the final go-ahead.

The president told reporters that he had “ordered the Pentagon to shoot it down on Wednesday as soon as possible” but that the military leaders decided to wait until it was in “the safest place to do it”.

“They successfully took it down and I want to complement our aviators who did it,” he said after the operation was complete.

Now, US Navy divers are working to retrieve the debris so that it can be studied in hopes of providing intelligence about China’s spying capabilities.

Meanwhile, China has threatened to take “further actions” in response to the balloon being shot down – despite denying it was a spy balloon and instead claiming it was a weather airship that simply flew off course.

“China will resolutely uphold the relevant company’s legitimate rights and interests, and at the same time reserving the right to take further actions in response,” China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement on Sunday.

“China had clearly asked the US to handle this properly in a calm, professional and restrained manner,” it added.

“The US had insisted on using force, obviously overreacting.”

The saga has escalated tensions between the US and China with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken cancelling a scheduled trip to Beijing in response.