Mystery over unidentified objects shot down by U.S. remains as lawmakers demand answers
Washington — After U.S. fighter jets shot down a third high-altitude object over Canada on Saturday, lawmakers from both parties are calling on the Biden administration to provide more details about that object and two others that have been downed over the last eight days.
Like the other incidents before it, the most recent downing of what was described as an "unidentified object" that violated Canadian airspace prompted the scrambling of U.S. fighter jets and led to more questions about the unusual activity happening in the sky, and what can be done in response to the potential incursions into the national airspace.
The object taken down over the Yukon on Saturday came a day after a "high-altitude object" the size of a small car was shot down over Alaska, and a week after the U.S. military downed a Chinese surveillance balloon off the South Carolina coast. The Federal Aviation Administration also temporarily closed some airspace in Montana after the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) detected a "radar anomaly" and sent "fighter aircraft" to investigate.
NORAD said the jet "did not identify any object to correlate to the radar hits." But on Sunday, Montana Sen. Jon Tester said an investigation is ongoing and "there may still be something out there, [or] it may be a false alarm."
"What's gone on the last two weeks or so, 10 days, has been nothing short of craziness," Tester said in an interview with "Face the Nation." "And the military needs to have a plan to not only determine what's out there, but determine the dangers that go with it."
Tester, who heads the Defense Appropriations subcommittee, said if the object is still over Montana, he believes it will be shot down.
The recent incidents involving the balloon-like objects detected over North America have set off alarm bells for lawmakers and, in the case of the Chinese spy balloon, sparked criticism of the Biden administration from members of both parties for its handling of the incursion.
The Chinese airship entered U.S. airspace on Jan. 28 and traversed the country, flying over or near our military sites in Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska and Missouri. Fighter jets brought the balloon down off the coast of South Carolina last week, and the Navy has been leading efforts to recover debris and retrieve the balloon's payload, though rough waters have impeded salvage operations.
Republicans and Democrats alike have questioned why the Biden administration waited to shoot down the balloon and allowed it to transit the country.
"It did a lot of damage," Rep. Mike McCaul, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Sunday on "Face the Nation," noting that the aircraft crossed over nuclear sites in Montana, Omaha, Nebraska and Missouri, in "plain view" of the American people. McCaul said he disagreed with the administration's statements that the U.S. managed to mitigate the threat from the balloon.
"If it was still transmitting going over these three very sensitive nuclear sites, I think if you look at the flight pattern of the balloon, it tells a story as to what the Chinese were up to as they controlled this aircraft throughout the United States," he said. "Going over those sites, in my judgment, would cause great damage. Remember, a balloon can see a lot more on the ground than a satellite."
McCaul also called for the U.S. to stop exporting technology that makes its way into Chinese surveillance and weapons systems, saying the balloon shot down off South Carolina carried American-made equipment. The Biden administration blacklisted six Chinese entities connected to China's aerospace industry on Friday in an attempt to block them from accessing U.S. technology.
"When the balloon was recovered, it had American-made component parts in there with English on that. It was made [with] parts made in America, that were put on a spy balloon from China. I don't think the American people accept that," McCaul said.
Tester, too, said doesn't believe "things happen by mistake when it comes to China." But he acknowledged it's currently unknown whether the car-sized object near Alaska's Prudhoe Bay, home to North America's largest oil field, is affiliated with the Chinese government.
"We need to take these things seriously. I think the president and I think more importantly the military are taking it very, very seriously," he said. "To back that up, I think through the appropriations process and the defense committee, we're going to make sure that they're taking it seriously. The checks and balances will be there as we move forward."
While more is known about the Chinese spy balloon that transited the country, it remains unclear just what the other two unidentified objects are. A spokesperson with the National Security Council said Sunday that the objects downed over Canada and Alaska "did not closely resemble and were much smaller" than the Chinese airship, and the Biden administration "will not definitively characterize them until we can recover the debris," which the military is working on.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told ABC's "This Week" on Sunday that the Biden administration believes the two objects taken down over Alaska and Canada were likely balloons.
"Much smaller than the one, the first one," Schumer said, referencing the Chinese spy balloon. "Both of those, one over Canada, one over Alaska, were at 40,000 feet. Immediately it was determined that that's a danger to commercial aircraft, which also fly at 40,000 feet. So the second one, in cooperation with the Canadians, the first one with the Americans, took it down, and that's appropriate."
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