After three weeks of high-stakes drama that was sparked by the discovery of a suspected Chinese spy balloon transiting much of the country, Vice President Joe Biden announced on Thursday that the United States is developing “sharper rules” to track, monitor, and potentially shoot down unknown aerial objects. This comes after the discovery of the balloon.
After the United States shot down a Chinese balloon and three other objects, which Vice President Joe Biden said the United States now believes were most likely “benign” objects launched by private companies or research institutions, the president gave instructions to National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan to lead a “interagency team” that will review U.S. procedures. Sullivan will be in charge of the team.
Biden did not express sorrow for the destruction of the three devices that have not yet been identified, but he did say that he believed the new guidelines would assist in “distinguish between those that are likely to pose safety and security issues that demand action and those that do not.”
“Make no mistake, if any object presents a threat to the safety and security of the American people I will take it down,” he added, repeating the legal justification cited for the downings, which was that the objects, which were flying between 20,000 and 40,000 feet, posed a remote risk to civilian planes. “Make no mistake, if any object presents a threat to the safety and security of the American people I will take it down,” he added.
The shootdown of the Chinese surveillance craft was the first known peacetime shootdown of an unauthorized item in United States airspace. This accomplishment would be duplicated three more times in the following week.
Biden was very harsh in his criticism of China’s spying program, stating that the shootdown sends a “clear message” that “the breach of our sovereignty is intolerable,” although he did indicate that he intends to keep communication channels open with Beijing. As the balloon flew above the United States, Secretary of State Antony Blinken had to postpone his first planned trip to China. A new meeting with his Chinese counterpart has not yet been set.
“I expect to be speaking with President Xi and I hope we can get to the bottom of this,” Biden said, adding, “But I make no apologies for taking down that balloon.” Biden said the rules would remain classified so as not to “give a roadmap to our enemies to try to evade our defenses.”
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Rep. Jim Himes of Connecticut, who is the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said he thought the U.S. would keep its radar systems set to find slow-moving balloons as well as fast-moving aircraft and other possible intruders. But he said that he had told White House officials late Tuesday that security forces would need to improve how they respond when they see balloons that they don’t know where they came from.
“The White House scrambling fighters and tankers” and special forces, he said, “is not going to be a scalable solution to every bit of airborne junk.”
Tensions between the U.S. and China have grown because of the Chinese balloon. Blinken is going to the Munich Security Conference on Thursday, and some people think he might use the chance to meet Wang Yi, a top Chinese official in charge of foreign policy who will also be at the conference.
Biden hadn’t said much about the things that crashed off the coast of Alaska on Friday, over Canada on Saturday, and over Lake Huron on Sunday. On Monday, the White House said there was no evidence of “aliens or extraterrestrial activity.” On Wednesday, U.S. officials said they were still trying to find the objects’ wreckage, but they thought all three had nothing to do with surveillance efforts.
John Kirby, a national security spokesman for the White House, said, “The intelligence community is considering as a leading explanation that these could just be balloons tied to some commercial or benign purpose,” Kirby said that neither a country nor a private company has come forward to claim any of the items. They don’t look like they were run by the US government.
Still unanswered are questions about the first balloon, like if it could spy and if it sent out signals as it flew over sensitive military sites in the United States. American intelligence thought that it was headed toward the U.S. territory of Guam at first, a U.S. official said.
After it left China, the U.S. kept track of it for a few days, said the official, who spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because he or she was talking about sensitive intelligence. The official said that it seems to have been blown off its original path and that it eventually flew over the United States.
Over Guam, which is a strategic hub for the U.S. Navy and Air Force in the western Pacific, balloons and other unknown objects have been seen before.
It’s not clear how much control China still had over the balloon after it went off course. A second U.S. official said that the balloon could have been moved or told to hover over a specific target from the outside, but it’s not clear if Chinese forces did this.
After the balloon was shot down, the White House said that similar balloons had flown over the United States at least three times during President Donald Trump’s time in office. Neither Trump nor his staff knew about this, and other balloons have flown over dozens of countries on five continents. Kirby said Monday that only the Biden administration found out about them.
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