A U.S. military assessment of China's high-altitude balloon use from April 2022 describes sightings in Florida and Hawaii in 2019 during the term of former President Donald Trump, CNN reported Tuesday.
According to the report called "People's Republic of China High Altitude Balloon," a Chinese balloon "drifted past Hawaii and across Florida" while circumnavigating the globe in 2019.
The balloons, like the one shot down over the Atlantic Ocean near the South Carolina coast Saturday, can operate from 65,000 feet to 328,000 feet "and for months at a time," according to the military's report.
Trump and former officials in his administration have denied such flights took place during his term, leaving open the question about when the military knew about the earlier flights.
Gen. Glen D. VanHerck, who is responsible for the North American Aerospace Defense Command system that tracks threats to the U.S. airspace, said Monday that he never detected the reported earlier flights and that it is a "gap" in the system that needs to be fixed, the Washington Post reported.
"As NORAD commander, it's my responsibility to detect threats to North America," VanHerck said at a news briefing. "I will tell you that we did not detect those threats. And that's a domain awareness gap that we have to figure out."
According to the CNN report, VanHerck said information about the earlier flights, including one near Hawaii in the early days of President Joe Biden's administration, only recently came to light because of Biden directing the agency to be more vigilant with China.
"Because the intelligence community made this a priority at the direction of President Biden, we 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," White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan saying, according to CNN.
"And we were also able to go back and look at the historical patterns. And that led us to come to understand that during the Trump administration, there were multiple instances where the surveillance balloons traversed American airspace and American territory."
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said that the earlier incursions were nothing like the recent balloon that spent several days crossing the continental U.S.
"From every indication that we have, that was for brief periods of time — nothing at all like what we saw last week in terms of duration," the New York Times reported Kirby as saying.
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