WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden is coming under increasing pressure from both Democratic and Republican senators to publicly explain why he ordered US warplanes to shoot down three floating objects last weekend.
The order to shoot down the three “unidentified aerial phenomena” over three days came just a week after a giant Chinese surveillance balloon was shot down on February 4 after hovering over the United States for eight days.
The first of the objects shot down this weekend was the size of a small car and hovering at 40,000 feet when it was shot down over the Arctic Ocean on Friday. The second was similar in size and height but was shot down over Canada’s Yukon on Saturday. The third floating object was slightly smaller, hovering at just 20,000 feet, when it was taken out over Lake Huron on Sunday.
On Tuesday, the White House said it had recovered key surveillance technology from the Chinese balloon but had yet to recover the debris from the three smaller objects.
Without physical evidence, it is impossible to know for sure if they are linked to the spy balloon, John Kirby, a spokesman for the National Security Council, told reporters on Tuesday.
“A number of entities — including countries, corporations, research and academic organizations — operate objects at these altitudes for purposes that are not at all nefarious, including scientific research,” Kirby said. But no country or university has claimed any of the derelict properties.
“We’re not seeing anything to suggest that at this point [the three smaller craft] be part of it [the Chinese government’s] spy program, or indeed intelligence gathering against the United States of any kind,” Kirby said at the White House.
Defense Department and Secret Service officials gave more information to senators Tuesday during a secret briefing about the balloons on Capitol Hill.
The participants emerged from the briefing reassured and not worried, they told reporters after the briefing. Her main complaint was that the public was not given the same information that she was.
“The President of the United States needs to go before the American public tonight and tell them what we know,” said Senator Roger Marshall, R-Kan., adding that he was concerned the White House was using the balloons as ” fear mongering”.
Senators are limited in what they can say because their briefing is classified, Marshall said.
“But the president can go before America and tell them firsthand that we’re sure everyone will be fine,” he said.
“We were presented with much information this morning that could be communicated to the American people without harm to sources or methods or to our national security,” Senator Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., told reporters in the Capitol.
“The American people need to know more,” he said.
In the meantime, the public should be reassured by the fact that those three objects were shot down, said Homeland Security Committee Chair Gary Peters, D-Mich.
“The fact that these objects have been detected and acted upon should give people confidence that we are seeing them and taking what they believe is appropriate action,” he said.
“But we have yet to find out exactly what they were.”
Republican Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas criticized what he described as a contradictory message from the White House.
“On one side, administration is saying, ‘We don’t yet know what these last three objects are, and we don’t want to characterize them until we recover them,'” Cotton said. “But on the other hand, it wasn’t a threat.” Neither can be true.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters that as more information becomes available, more information can be shared with the public.
“We know our defense and intelligence departments are analyzing every part of it, and they’re gaining more knowledge all the time,” the New York Democrat said after a caucus luncheon at the Capitol.
“There’s quite a lot of information out there and more to come,” he said.