The dayslong spectacle saw many Republicans criticize the Biden administration for what they viewed as a slow response to the foreign object, while some conservative leaders and pundits took the opportunity to pick at confidence under the Biden administration in general as they claimed no other leader such as Donald Trump would have let a Chinese spy balloon fly over the US.
"Would Trump have let China fly a spy balloon over our country?" Rep. Jim Jordan wrote on Twitter. "Would Reagan? JFK? Truman? No, no, and no."
But senior Pentagon officials said on Saturday that suspected Chinese surveillance balloons crossed into the US at least three times during the Trump administration and once earlier in the Biden administration, the Associated Press reported .
The senior defense official who spoke on background also said "a balloon of this nature" crossed over the continental US before the Biden administration but declined to specify when.
"It's happened a few times in recent years to include before this administration. But beyond that, I'm not going to go into the details," the official said.
It's also unclear if balloons spotted during the Trump administration were shot down. A Pentagon spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.
Craig Singleton, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told the AP that Chinese surveillance balloons were sighted several times in the past five years. Some of them have been spotted near US military bases in Hawaii, he said, though he did not specify when.
Trump on Thursday shared a post on Truth Social from rightwing activist Jack Posobiec, who claimed without evidence that the Pentagon was saying "the quiet part out loud. The CCP [Chinese Communist Party] can send spy balloons over our nuclear silos and we will do nothing."
In a statement to Fox News , Mississippi Republican Sen. Roger Wicker claimed that "if press reports are correct, the Biden Administration hoped to hide this incident from the American people."
However, the times when suspected surveillance balloons crossed into the US under the Trump administration were never made public until this past week's incident.
South Carolina Republican Senator Tim Scott also chimed in and tweeted that "the balloon should have been shot down before it crossed the continental United States, not after," adding that the incident was a "dereliction of Biden's duty."
It's unclear what information the suspected Chinese spy balloon could have gleaned from its various positions. The Montana area the balloon flew over houses the Malmstrom Air Force Base which has intercontinental ballistic missiles.
US officials said the balloon poses little threat in terms of what intelligence it might gather.
The specific dimensions of the device were not disclosed to the public, but one senior official told ABC News that it was estimated to be the size of three buses.
A differing factor in this past week's balloon incident that the senior defense official did acknowledge is the length of time the object has been around.
"It is appearing to hang out for a long period of time this time around, more persistent than in previous instances. So that would be one distinguishing factor," he said.
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