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Chinese spy balloon shot down not the first spotted over US during Biden’s tenure

US Navy personnel recover parts of the Chinese high-altitude surveillance balloon off the coast of Myrtle Beach - US Navy via AP
US Navy personnel recover parts of the Chinese high-altitude surveillance balloon off the coast of Myrtle Beach - US Navy via AP

The US has retrieved parts of the Chinese spy balloon it shot down off South Carolina on Saturday as it emerged that another balloon entered US airspace during Joe Biden’s presidency.

John Kirby, National Security Council spokesman, said US personnel “have recovered some remnants off the surface of the sea”, although weather conditions have not permitted much undersea surveillance of the debris field.

They will “in the coming days be able to get down there and take a better look at what’s on the bottom of the ocean, but it’s just started”, Mr Kirby said.

Measures were taken to ensure the balloon’s instruments were “mitigated” in their ability to spy during the flyover, while “at the same time increasing and improving our ability to collect intelligence and information from it”, Mr Kirby added.

“We’re still analysing the information that we were able to collect off of the balloon before we shot it out of the sky and now we’re going to recover it and I suspect we may learn even more.”

Remnants of the downed balloon are retrieved from the surface of the sea - US Navy via AP
Remnants of the downed balloon are retrieved from the surface of the sea - US Navy via AP
A US Coast Guard helicopter flies over a debris field during recovery efforts of the Chinese spy balloon shot down on Saturday - US Navy via AP
A US Coast Guard helicopter flies over a debris field during recovery efforts of the Chinese spy balloon shot down on Saturday - US Navy via AP

US officials have admitted that at least one other Chinese spy balloon entered US airspace at the start of Mr Biden’s presidency.

Jake Sullivan, White House national security adviser, also said “we were able to go back and look at the historical patterns” and uncover “multiple instances” during the Trump administration in which Chinese surveillance balloons traversed American airspace and territory.

A US air force intelligence report reviewed by CNN found that a Chinese spy balloon “drifted past Hawaii and across Florida” as it “circumnavigated the globe” in 2019.

Several Trump administration officials have said they didn’t learn of Chinese spy balloons during their tenures.

Beijing condemned the shooting down of the latest balloon as an “obvious overreaction” and urged Washington to show restraint.

On Tuesday Mao Ning, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, said the balloon belonged to China.

“This balloon is not American. The Chinese government will continue to defend its legitimate rights and interests,” she said.

Some Republicans have questioned why the balloon was not shot down before it was allowed to travel across the US. Mr Biden asked for military options last Wednesday, but Pentagon officials said the risks were too great to shoot it down over land.

After first passing into US airspace north of Alaska’s Aleutian Islands on Jan 28, the balloon travelled down through Canada, back into the US and was downed off the Atlantic Coast on Saturday - a week later.