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Aerial objects shot down after Chinese balloon were not spying, Biden says

Three new objects were shot down over U.S. and Canadian airspace, but the president says all were linked either to private companies or used for research.

WASHINGTON (CN) — One week after his administration announced it would explore retaliation avenues against Beijing for what it said was a surveillance balloon with proven ties to the Chinese military, President Joe Biden distinguished that event from the three subsequent objects shot down in recent days.

“Nothing right now suggests they were related to China's spy balloon program, or they were surveillance vehicles from other any other country,” the president said at a Thursday press conference that lasted less than 10 minutes.

While the exact purpose or mission of these objects remains unknown, Biden said they “were most likely balloons tied to private companies, recreation or research institutions, studying whether or conducting other scientific research.”

The spate of military action against unidentified aerial objects should not be misconstrued, Biden warned, of an uptick in such programs. He insisted that U.S. radar has become sensitive to them, at his direction, and that the three objects in question were taken down out of an abundance of caution.

“Make no mistake if any object presents a threat to the safety security American people, I will take it down,” he said.

Last week after the Chinese spy balloon was shot down off the coast of South Carolina, intelligence officials disclosed that it was part of a fleet designed to surveil U.S. military operations. As the U.S. considers retaliatory measures against Beijing, the officials noted that China had helmed similar flights over more than 40 countries and five continents.

Biden emphasized Thursday that he will be in further communication with President Xi Jinping about China's encroachment on U.S. airspace.

“We seek competition, not conflict with China. We're not looking for a new Cold War, but I make no apologies and we will compete and we'll responsibly manage that competition so that it doesn't veer into conflict,” Biden said. “This episode underscores the importance of maintaining open lines of communication between our diplomats and our military professionals.”

Unlike the Chinese balloon, which was tracked for several days across the country after it was first spotted over Montana, the three subsequent balloons were downed soon after they were spotted. Biden said this is because they were much smaller than the Chinese balloon, whose size has been likened to that of two or three buses, making the ocean the best place to bring it down.

The first of the three subsequent objects that drew a military response was identified this past Friday above Alaska. Over the weekend, a U.S. fighter jet shot down yet another object over the Yukon in Canada. Biden said this was down in consultation with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. He noted that the latest of the objects was downed in Michigan over Lake Huron.

“They acted in accordance with established parameters for determining how to deal with unidentified aerial objects in U.S. airspace,” Biden said of the military Thursday. “At their recommendation, I gave the order to take down these three objects due to hazards to civilian commercial air traffic, and because we could not rule out the surveillance risk of sensitive facilities.”

The president noted that both the U.S. and Canadian militaries are still seeking to recover the objects’ debris to learn more about them, and that U.S. intelligence is still assessing all three incidences. 

“We know that a range of entities including countries, companies and research organizations operate objects at altitudes for purposes that are not nefarious, including legitimate scientific research,” Biden added Thursday. “I want to be clear, we don't have any evidence that there has been a sudden increase in number of objects in the sky. We're now just seeing more, partially because of the steps we've taken to increase our radars.” 

To deal with these unidentified aerial objects moving forward, Biden said his administration is working on how to distinguish "between those that are likely to pose safety and security risks that necessitate action and those that do not.”

These classified policy parameters will be shared with Congress upon completion, Biden said, and they will be classified so other countries cannot evade U.S. defenses. The parameters will continue to adapt to guide how the U.S. responds to unmanned and unidentified aerial objects, he explained.

The U.S. national security adviser is under orders in the meantime to improve the country's inventory of unmanned airborne objects U.S. airspace, and to make sure that inventory is accessible and up to date. 

Measures to improve U.S. capacity to detect on unmanned objects in U.S. airspace will also be advanced, Biden continued, and rules and regulations for launching and maintaining unmanned objects in the skies above the United States will be updated. 

This arena is largely unregulated, Biden noted, but he said Secretary of State Antony Blinken will lead an effort to change that with the creation of common global norms.

“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. 

Earlier Thursday, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco announced a disruptive technology strike force to protect the country's advanced technologies assets from foreign adversaries.

Categories:Government, National

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