The San Juan Daily Star
Flying objects could turn out to be harmless, US says
By Michael D. Shear and Karoun Demirjian
A top White House official said Tuesday that three unidentified flying objects shot down in the past several days might turn out to be harmless commercial or research efforts that posed no real threat to the United States.
John Kirby, a spokesperson for the National Security Council, said investigators had not yet found any evidence that the three objects were connected to China’s program of balloon surveillance similar to the balloon shot down off South Carolina’s coast this month.
But he cautioned that officials had not yet been able to find and collect the debris from the three objects after they were shot down and that a different conclusion could be reached if the debris was found and analyzed.
Kirby said that military and intelligence officials had also found nothing to suggest that the three objects were part of an intelligence collection effort by another country.
“We haven’t seen any indication or anything that points specifically to the idea that these three objects were part of the PRC’s spying program or that they were definitively involved in external intelligence collection efforts,” he told reporters, referring to the People’s Republic of China.
Over the course of a wild weekend, U.S. fighter aircraft shot down three unidentified flying objects from Friday to Sunday: the first over Prudhoe Bay, Alaska; the second over the Yukon Territory of Canada; and the third over Lake Huron. The third object landed on the Canadian side of Lake Huron, officials said.
Pentagon officials also acknowledged Tuesday that the first missile fired by a U.S. fighter jet over Lake Huron on Sunday missed the target.
Gen. Mark Milley, the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters in Brussels that the missile that missed its target is now at the bottom of Lake Huron.
“First shot missed. Second shot hit,” Milley said. “We go to great lengths to make sure that the airspace is clear and the backdrop is clear up to the max effective range of the missile. And in this case, the missiles land, or the missile landed, harmlessly in the water of Lake Huron.”
Recovery units are trying to retrieve the unidentified objects so intelligence officials can determine what they are. Recovery efforts are also underway for the debris left after an F-22 shot down a Chinese spy balloon off the coast of South Carolina on Feb. 4, and officials said Monday that crews had recovered “significant debris” from the craft that included “priority sensor and electronics pieces.”
Kirby’s comments came as senior Pentagon and intelligence community officials, including Gen. Glen VanHerck, the head of North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command, visited the Capitol on Tuesday to deliver a similar message to the full Senate. The briefing was the latest effort by the administration to update lawmakers on the series of strange floating objects shot down in recent days.
ut the admission that the administration had more questions than answers about three of the objects prompted a fresh wave of frustration among lawmakers, who criticized not only the slow recovery effort but also the administration’s lack of clarity about what was floating overhead in the first place.
“Everyone’s talking, acting like this is the first time we’ve ever seen these things,” said Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. “No, it isn’t.” Rubio, the ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, also questioned whether the craft should have been brought down.
He said that recovering the debris alone would not provide a full picture of what is happening in the skies above the United States.
“The only way you’re going to get answers to that is not just to retrieve whatever is leftover, but to understand how it compares to the hundreds of other similar cases,” Rubio said.
Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, who chairs the committee, said the government’s tracking of airborne objects launched for legitimate purposes needs to be improved, adding that “there is not anywhere near as formal a process as there probably should be.”
Warner said the administration needs to be “much more aggressive” about ensuring “a much better notification process with the authorities” to register legitimate scientific, weather and other craft so officials know which outliers are potentially cause for alarm.