Joe Biden said Thursday that the three most recent objects he ordered to be shot down were “most likely balloons” not tied to Chinese surveillance.
“We don’t yet know exactly what these three objects were. But nothing, nothing right now suggests they were related to Chinese spy balloon programs or they were surveillance vehicles from other any other country. The intelligence community’s current assessment is that these three objects were most likely balloons tied to private companies, recreation or research institutions studying weather or conducting other scientific research,” he said.
The shoot-downs — by U.S. military aircraft over Alaska on Friday, over Canada on Saturday, and Lake Huron on Sunday — came after a 200-foot Chinese surveillance balloon was allowed to fly across the continental U.S. after first entering U.S. airspace over Alaska on January 28 and then re-entering over Montana on February 1.
The Biden administration did not shoot the balloon down until February 4, when it flew over South Carolina and reached the Atlantic Ocean.
Biden also admitted that he personally ordered the shoot-down of the three subsequent objects. Each object was shot down by a AIM-9x Sidewinder missile that cost more than $400,000. Since the military missed the object on Sunday once, it required two missiles.
“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,” he said.
Biden said the three objects were detected after the Chinese spy balloon incident since the North American Defense (NORAD) had enhanced its radars to pick up more slow-moving objects over the U.S. and around the world.
“We’re now just seeing more of them, partially because the steps we’ve taken to increase our radars, to narrow our radars,” he said.
In this photo provided by the U.S. Navy, sailors assigned to Explosive Ordnance Disposal Group 2 recover a high-altitude surveillance balloon off the coast of Myrtle Beach, S.C., Feb. 5, 2023. (U.S. Navy via AP)
Biden said his administration would have to keep adapting its “approach” when it comes to dealing with the objects, and that he has asked his team to come back to him with “sharper rules for how we will deal with these unidentified objects moving forward, distinguishing between those that are likely to pose safety and security risks that necessitate action and those that do not.”
“But make no mistake, if any object presents a threat to the safety, security, the American people I will take it down,” he said.
He also defended his administration’s response to the Chinese spy balloon, saying that shooting it down posed a risk to people on the ground.
“We waited until it was safely over water, which would not only protect civilians, but also enable us to recover substantial components for further analytics and shot it down, sending a clear message. The violation of our sovereignty is unacceptable,” he said.
Biden said the U.S. has sanctioned Chinese companies involved with the spy balloon program, but that his administration still wanted to engage with China.
“As I’ve said since the beginning of my administration, competition, not conflict with China. We’re not looking for a new Cold War, but I make no apologies,” he said. “I expect to be speaking with President Xi and I hope we’re going to get to the bottom of this. I make no apologies for taking down that balloon.”