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Surveillance balloons were flown over U.S. at least three times during Trump administration, White House says

Navy, Coast Guard recover spy balloon debris
Navy and Coast Guard recover China spy balloon debris 02:26

Chinese surveillance balloons were flown over the U.S. on at least three occasions during the Trump administration, a senior Biden administration official said Sunday night — but this information was not discovered until after Trump left office.

Biden administration officials on Monday would not say how or when they found out about those balloons. It was also unclear how long those balloons remained over the U.S. and what trajectory they took.

"I will tell you that we did not detect those threats," said Gen. Glen VanHerck, commander of North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command. "And that's a domain awareness gap that we have to figure out."

Former President Donald Trump told Fox News that "it never happened under the Trump administration." A Chinese official on Monday referred back to Trump's denial.

US China Balloon
In this photo provided by Brian Branch, a large balloon drifts above the Kingston, N.C. area, with an airplane and its contrail seen below it.  Brian Branch / AP

China, meanwhile, has insisted the balloon discovered last week was a weather balloon that veered off course, and called the U.S. response "unacceptable" and an "overreaction." 

The Chinese balloon first entered U.S. airspace on Jan. 28 and flew over or near four military test sites in Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska and Missouri before being shot down Saturday off the coast of South Carolina. 

President Joe Biden and other administration officials have said that the president wanted to shoot it down earlier, but was advised by Pentagon leaders to wait until it was over water to mitigate damage. 

Mr. Biden insisted Monday that the balloon's discovery did not weaken U.S.-China relations.

"We've made it clear to China what we're going to do," he said. "They understand our position. We're not going to back off."

Chinese officials on Monday also confirmed a balloon flying over Latin America originated from China as well, but said it too was a weather balloon. 

Eleanor Watson contributed to this report. 

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