“We are aware that there have been four previous balloons that have gone over U.S. territory. This is what we assess is part of a larger Chinese surveillance balloon program,” Ryder said. “You’ve heard us talk in the past about the fact that this is a program that’s been operated for several years.”
Last week, the military tracked a balloon that crossed the U.S. before it was shot down off the coast of the Carolinas on Saturday. The military is still working to recover debris from the airship.
Outrage over Beijing’s encroachment last week was further fueled by revelations of several more Chinese balloons that crossed into U.S. territory but went undetected. Ryder said the military has since “learned a lot on how to track” the balloons.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who postponed a visit to Beijing over the balloon, echoed the assessment that China’s surveillance was widespread. He said the U.S. has “shared information with dozens of countries.”
“We’re not alone in this,” Blinken told reporters on Wednesday. “Countries across five continents have also had surveillance balloons [fly over] their territory, which is why we’re sharing this information with others.”
“We continue to look to China to act responsibly,” he said.
The global surveillance network was first reported by The Washington Post.
There’s bipartisan furor over China’s incursion, but Biden is also taking heat, mostly from Republicans, over waiting to shoot down the balloon.
Biden said he ordered the craft shot down last week, but military brass advised waiting until it was over water to minimize risks to people on the ground.
Meanwhile, officials from the intelligence community, Pentagon and State Department are set to brief members of the House and Senate separately on Thursday.
Administration briefers include Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, Pentagon policy chief Colin Kahl and Gen. Glen VanHerck, the commander of U.S. Northern Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command.
Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat, will also gavel in the first public hearing on the balloon on Thursday with Pentagon officials set to testify.
Tester, whose state of Montana was traversed by the balloon, chairs the Senate panel that controls the Pentagon budget.
Sherman and the Pentagon’s Asia policy chief, Ely Ratner, are also scheduled to testify at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on U.S.-China policy on Thursday.
Daniella Diaz and Kelly Garrity contributed to this report.