Pressured by criticism from Republicans and questions from reporters about a sudden series of efforts to shoot down a Chinese surveillance balloon and several other unidentified craft, the Biden White House on Monday blamed the Trump administration for failing to detect similar craft in US airspace between 2017-2021.
A spokesman for the National Security Council (NSC), John Kirby, stated at a press conference on Monday that the Chinese surveillance programme uncovered by the US this month was active during the Trump presidency. His remarks came in response to repeated questions about why the US military was apparently just now shooting down unidentified objects flying in US airspace.
According to Mr Kirby, the reason for this sudden effort by the US military was simply that balloons similar to the first object shot down in early February off the coast of South Carolina had only recently been detected. It wasn’t initially clear how the US now knew that those craft were active during the Trump presidency.
“It was operating during the previous administration, but they did not detect it. We detected it,” said Mr Kirby.
The refrain is one that the White House will likely use frequently in the coming days as Republicans continue to question why the first object spotted by US forces was not shot down until it had apparently traversed the continental United States.
Biden administration officials have repeatedly insisted that the size of the first object, which was described as being the size of several buses, prohibited its destruction over the US landmass for safety reasons.
On Monday, Mr Kirby said that the US still cannot confirm whether two objects shot down over Canada and Alaska this weekend were of the same surveillance purpose as the first object was stated to be. Tough weather conditions and the remote nature of the locations where the crafts were destroyed have complicated recovery of the debris, Mr Kirby said.
China’s government has condemned the US’s destruction of the first craft, and said that it reserves the right to respond. Still, officials in Beijing continue to insist that the craft was meant for meteorological purposes, not surveillance.
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