UPDATE, Feb. 6, 2023: Former President Donald Trump on Sunday strongly denied defense officials’ claims that Chinese balloons had crossed U.S. territory at least three times during his administration. This story has been updated with his remarks.
There’s a stereotypical scene in horror movies where the protagonists finally vanquish a villainous being that’s wreaking havoc on human society, only for the camera to “zoom out” to reveal that the monster is but a lone, lesser speck of a much more terrifying tapestry of evil, invariably setting up a higher-stakes sequel.
Well, turns out that the saga of the Chinese spy balloon is taking a turn into horror cinema, because senior defense officials said during a news briefing Saturday that the balloon shot down off the coast of South Carolina was hardly unique.
They claimed this type of incursion even happened under the leadership of former President Donald Trump.
“[People’s Republic of China] 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,” a defense official said, according to an official transcript of the briefing.
How long would the Chinese allow a US “weather balloon” drifting across their country? pic.twitter.com/AW5FT79qZ4
— Cooter McPherson (@AKACoot) February 4, 2023
Trump strongly denied the claim in an interview Sunday.
“This never happened. It would have never happened,” he told Fox News.
“It never happened with us under the Trump administration and if it did, we would have shot it down immediately,” Trump said. “It’s disinformation.”
What did the Chinese do about these now-multiple incursions?
“We spoke directly with Chinese officials through multiple channels, but rather than address their intrusion into our airspace, the PRC put out an explanation that lacked any credibility,” the official said at the briefing Saturday.
The official then proceeded to rip into China’s claims that the spy balloon is little more than a “civilian airship used for research.”
“The PRC has claimed publicly that the high-altitude balloon operating above the United States is a weather balloon that was blown off-course. This is false,” the defense official said.
“This was a PRC surveillance balloon. This surveillance balloon purposefully traversed the United States and Canada. And we are confident it was seeking to monitor sensitive military sites. Its route over the United States, near many potential sensitive sites, contradicts the PRC government’s explanation that it was a weather balloon.”
It’s at this point that the defense official addressed the reports that there was more than one balloon in operation, confirming the worst fears and suspicions of people across the globe.
“This is not the only PRC surveillance balloon operating in the Western Hemisphere,” the official said. “We assess that a balloon was observed transiting Central and South America, and that that is another PRC surveillance balloon. These balloons are all part of a PRC fleet of balloons developed to conduct surveillance operations, which have also violated the sovereignty of other countries.
“These kinds of activities are often undertaken at the direction of the People’s Liberation Army, or PLA. Over the past several years, Chinese balloons have previously been spotted over countries across five continents, including in East Asia, South Asia, and Europe. PRC intrusions violating our sovereignty and the sovereignty of other countries are unacceptable. We have notified the PRC about our actions and we are briefing allies and partners.”
A different senior official told reporters that there is currently no timeline on the recovery and analysis of the spy balloon.
“We have multiple U.S. Navy vessels and Coast Guard vessels in the region right now, establishing a security perimeter, conducting search for any debris that may be on the water to ensure the safety of U.S. civilians, any maritime activity that is ongoing out in the water,” the official said at Saturday’s briefing.
Interestingly, the unnamed officials taking these questions noted that the military had been tracking the balloon since Jan. 28 after it entered the Alaska Joint Operating Area.
“It entered the Alaska Joint Operating Area on January 28th, having entered the U.S. Air Defense Identification Zone north of the Aleutian Islands, and therefore passing into sovereign U.S. airspace. It then entered into Canadian airspace on January 30th, and re-entered U.S. airspace over northern Idaho on January 31st,” the official said.
Many Americans will be keeping an eye on what happens next.
Not only will many be eagerly awaiting to learn whatever is discovered from studying the downed balloon, but China has also threatened retaliation.
Rest assured, Biden will have some questions to answer and respond to regarding this international incident when he addresses the country for his State of the Union address on Tuesday.
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.