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What Took so Long to Shoot Down the Chinese Spy Balloon? Pentagon Says It's Been Going on for Years


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China is accusing the United States of "indiscriminate use of force" after a U.S. military jet shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon Saturday.  

Critics are asking what took the White House and the Pentagon so long to do it.  

The U.S. shot down the balloon only after it had already flown over sensitive military sites across North America. 

An F-22 fighter fired an air-to-air missile roughly six nautical miles off the South Carolina coast, about 60,000 feet in the air.

Joe Biden said he ordered U.S. officials to shoot down the suspected spy balloon earlier this week and that national security leaders decided the best time for the operation was when it got over water.

Biden told reporters, "I told them to shoot it down... on Wednesday. They said to me, 'Let's wait till the safest place to do it.'"

China claims the flyover was an accident involving what it called a "civilian unmanned airship." 

The Pentagon now says it's happened before, at least three times, including during the Trump administration, a claim refuted by former President Trump, and his White House Defense and intelligence officials. 

A senior Biden administration official later told Fox News that information suggesting Chinese spy balloons crossed the U.S. under the Trump administration was "discovered after" Trump left office. 

Officials also say a Chinese spy balloon crashed into the Pacific off the coast of Hawaii four months ago, and that Chinese surveillance balloons have flown over Texas, Florida and Guam. 

Lawmakers from both parties were left wondering why the Pentagon didn't shoot this balloon down sooner. 

Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) said, "I'm grateful that the military took decisive action when they and how they did, but we, obviously, have issues here."

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) said, "I can assure you if we fly a balloon over China they're going to shoot it down and probably a lot sooner than we did."

Rubio believes China was sending a message.

"And the message they were trying to send is what they believe internally, and that is that the United States is a once great superpower that's hollowed out, that's in decline," Rubio said.

China played down the cancellation of a visit by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken after the balloon incident, claiming neither side had formally announced a meeting. And China warns that it "retains the right to respond further."  

It also fired its national weather chief just after the balloon was revealed to be over U.S. territory. 

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Since joining CBN News, Dale has reported extensively from Western Europe, as well as China, Russia, and Central and South America. Dale also covered China's opening to capitalism in the early 1990s, as well as the Yugoslav Civil War. CBN News awarded him its Command Performance Award for his reporting from Moscow and Sarajevo. Since 9/11, Dale has reported extensively on various aspects of the global war on terror in the United States and Europe. Follow Dale on Twitter @dalehurd and "like" him at