Biden Says No Evidence of ‘Sudden Increase’ of Unknown Activity in US Skies
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said Thursday that the government doesn’t know what the three unidentified objects shot down by the U.S. military over the weekend were, but assured the American people there’s no evidence of “a sudden increase in the number of objects in the sky.”
The president addressed reporters in the South Court Auditorium of the White House, evidently seeking to quell widespread speculation about the incidents, which occurred in the wake of the U.S. shooting down a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon off the coast of South Carolina Feb. 4.
At her daily briefing with reporters, which concluded shortly before the president spoke, White House Spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said efforts to recover the debris from the subsequent shoot downs, which occurred between Feb. 11 and Feb. 13, have been hampered by weather conditions.
A short time later, the president said, “We don’t yet know what these three objects were, but nothing right now suggests they’re related to China’s spy balloon program, or that they were surveillance vehicles from any other country.”
He added that the current assessment from intelligence officials is that the three objects were most likely balloons “tied to private companies or research institutions studying weather or conducting other scientific research.”
President Biden said that when he first came to office, he instructed the intelligence community to take a “broad look” at the phenomenon of unidentified aerial objects, and one result was an increase in the focus of the nation’s radar.
As a result, he said, “we’re now just seeing more of them,” and that requires “adapting our approach to dealing with these challenges.”
The president announced that he has directed a team to draft “sharper rules” for how the U.S. deals with unidentified flying objects moving forward, “distinguishing between those that are likely to pose safety and security risks that necessitate action and those that do not.”
Biden said he would share the new policy parameters with Congress once they are completed, but that they’ll remain classified, “so we don’t give a roadmap to our enemies to try to evade our defenses.”
“Make no mistake, if any object presents a threat to the safety or security of the American people, I will take it down,” Biden said.
In addition to the new rules, the president said he’s directed the national security advisor to lead a government-wide effort “to make sure we are positioned to deal safely and effectively with the objects in our airspace.”
The four-pronged effort will include:
- Establishing a better inventory of unmanned airborne objects in space above the United States, and making sure the inventory is both accessible to those who need it and up to date.
- Implementing additional measures to improve the nation’s capacity to detect man-made objects in its airspace.
- Updating rules and regulations for launching and maintaining unmanned objects in the skies above the United States.
- Having the secretary of state lead an effort to establish global “norms” for what Biden described as “this largely unregulated space.”
“These steps will lead to safer and more secure skies, for our air travelers, our military, our scientists and for people on the ground as well,” the president said. “That’s my job as your president and commander in chief.
“And as the events of the previous days have shown, I will always act to protect the interest of the American people and the security of the American people,” Biden said.
As for the suspected Chinese surveillance balloon, Biden reiterated that he gave the order to shoot it down when safe to avoid injuries to people below.
As the balloon proceeded across the United States, “we tracked it closely, analyzed its capabilities and learned more about how it operates.”
“And because we knew its path, we were able to protect sensitive sites against [information] collection,” he said, adding that shooting the balloon down, safely over water, sent “a clear, clear message that the violation of our sovereignty is unacceptable.”
“We will act to protect our country. And we did,” the president said.
Since then, the Chinese government has downplayed the incident, insisting that the balloon was a civilian device for monitoring the weather that blew off course.
Despite these assertions, the Biden administration on Friday blocked the sales of some U.S. technology to five Chinese aviation and technology companies and one research institute that Commerce Department officials said support Chinese military programs related to intelligence and reconnaissance.
The entities sanctioned were the Beijing Nanjing Aerospace Technology Company, the Dongguan Lingkong Remote Sensing Technology Company, the Eagles Men Aviation Science and Technology Group Company, the Guangzhou Tian-Hai-Xiang Aviation Technology Company, the Shanxi Eagles Men Aviation Science and Technology Group Company and the China Electronics Technology Group Corporation 48th Research Institute.
Despite this step, Biden said Thursday that his administration is “continuing to engage with China.”
“We seek competition, not conflict, with China,” he said. “We’re not looking for a new Cold War. But I make no apologies. And we will compete.
“Hopefully, this episode underscores the importance of maintaining open lines of communication between our diplomats and our military professionals. Our diplomats will be engaged further, and I will remain in communication with President Xi.
“And,” Biden added, “I’m grateful for the work of the last several weeks of our intelligence, diplomatic and military professionals, who proved once again to be the most capable in the world.”
Dan can be reached at [email protected] and @DanMcCue
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