WHITE HOUSE —
President Joe Biden is expected as early as Thursday to outline his administration’s plans to deal with the alleged Chinese surveillance balloon and the three unidentified aerial objects that he ordered his military to shoot down recently.
In a briefing to reporters Tuesday, the National Security Council (NSC) coordinator for strategic communications, John Kirby, said Biden has directed national security adviser Jake Sullivan to lead an interagency team to develop parameters on how the United States will deal with unmanned, unidentified airborne objects in the future. The protocols are expected to be released this week.
Kirby said the administration will continue to consult with other countries, particularly those that have also detected spy balloons over their territories. “Regardless of what the parameters are, as we have in the past so we will in the future talk to relevant allies and partners as needed,” he said.
Officials say the balloon, which a U.S. military jet shot down with a missile on Feb. 4, is part of an international “high-altitude balloon program for intelligence collection” by China’s People’s Liberation Army that has flown over 40 countries. China maintains that the balloon was a civilian airship used for meteorological research.
The other three objects that the U.S. military shot down — over Alaska on Feb 10, over Canadian airspace near Alaska with coordination with the government in Ottawa on Feb. 11, and over Michigan on Feb. 12 — are likely “tied to some commercial or benign purpose,” Kirby said.
In general, the U.S military intercepts all high-altitude aerial objects and engages those it cannot confirm as benign, Carl Schuster, a former director of operations at the U.S. Pacific Command’s Joint Intelligence Center, told VOA.
“The number of ‘shootdowns’ will drop significantly once NORAD [North American Aerospace Defense Command] and the White House have confidence in a protocol that separates the benign from the concerning and threatening contacts. Until then, NORAD will continue to intercept them all and down those whose status is uncertain,” he said.
Biden is under intense pressure from Republican lawmakers who are demanding more transparency on how his administration plans to deal with such incidents in the future. On Tuesday the administration provided lawmakers with a classified briefing on the flying objects.
“We witnessed last week the president basically watching the balloon go all across America, had very little to say about it at the time, only passing reference to the episode in the State of the Union,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters following the briefing. “The American people deserve to hear more from the president.”
Dan Garrett, a former senior intelligence analyst at the U.S. Department of Defense, told VOA that Washington needs to significantly increase its counterintelligence resources to prevent Chinese intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities.
“And just as [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s war on Ukraine is the message, China’s surveillance balloon flight over the United States is also the message: the U.S. and the West are no longer safe; challenge or defy us [Beijing and Moscow] and you will pay a price, and, lastly, we can reach and “touch you” at will,” he said.