WASHINGTON – After ordering the military to bring down four suspicious objects over US airspace in a little over a week, President Biden has no plans to explain his decisions to the American public, the White House said Monday.
Since ordering an Air Force F-22 to shoot down a Chinese spy balloon on Feb. 4 that had patrolled American airspace for a week, Biden has not spoken publicly about the incident aside from a brief mention during his State of the Union address on Feb. 7.
“As we made clear last week, if China threatens our sovereignty, we will act to protect our country. And we did,” Biden said, referencing but not explicitly mentioning the balloon.
Since then, Biden has ordered the military to take down three more flying objects – one over Alaska on Friday, the second over northwestern Canada on Saturday and the third over Lake Huron on Sunday – none of which have been tied to China or any other country.
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters Monday that the White House has been “as transparent as we can be” about the situation.
“I won’t speak for the President’s personal speaking schedule, but I mean, he has been deeply engaged in every one of these decisions,” Kirby said. “He’s very much staying on top of the issue and directing his team to make sure we are properly consulting and briefing not just members of Congress, but state leaders as well.”
“Of course, you know, we’re also doing what we can in the public sphere,” he added.
With the president keeping mum publicly, messaging on the mysterious objects dotting American skies has largely been left up to Kirby and a handful of officials at the Pentagon, much to the chagrin of congressional Republicans.
“President Biden owes the American people some answers,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on the chamber floor Monday. “What are we shooting down? Where do they come from? Whether they are hostile or not, is there coherent guidance about when to shoot them down? … How did we get into a position where the greatest nation in the world doesn’t know what is traversing our own airspace?”
“After allowing a Chinese spy balloon to fly across America when we could’ve downed it off the Aleutian Islands, President Biden has now downed three ‘objects’ despite claiming last week that would’ve posed unacceptable risks to public safety,” Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said in a statement. “The president owes the American people an explanation, direct and on camera, of what we know about these ‘objects’ and what steps he’s taking to protect America’s sovereign airspace. [Canadian Prime Minister] Justin Trudeau did that, so surely Joe Biden can. No commander-in-chief should hide behind press secretaries and anonymous sources in a time of crisis.”
“In its 65 year history @NORADCommand never shot down an aircraft over US airspace,” tweeted Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). “Over the [last] 10 days they have shot down 1 balloon & 3 ‘objects’ . Americans need to hear directly about this from their President today.”
On Monday, Kirby promised further information once recovery efforts are completed for all the downed objects, but warned the White House was unlikely to publicly detail how the balloon was detected and traced to China despite Beijing’s continued denial that it was a surveillance craft.
“I think for reasons that you will all understand we cannot publicly go into many details about how we discover and counteract foreign intelligence collection efforts because much of what we have done and are doing is of course sensitive,” he said.
The Pentagon on Sunday admitted that NORAD has been keeping a closer eye on its radars since first spotting the Chinese balloon on Jan. 28, which partly accounts for the recent increase in airborne object sightings.
“We have been more closely scrutinizing our airspace at these altitudes, enhancing our radar, which may at least partly explain the increase in the objects detected,” Assistant Defense Secretary for Homeland Defense and Hemispheric Affairs Melissa Dalton said. “But we also know that there are range of entities out there … that operate objects at these altitudes for purposes that are not nefarious, including legitimate research.”
Kirby explained Monday that NORAD “modified” its radars’ filters and gains after identifying the spy balloon “to look more discreetly at high altitude, small radar cross section, and low speed objects.”
“Anybody that’s operated radar will know you can set the parameters, and if you set the parameters in such a way that to look for a certain something, it’s more likely that you’re going to find a certain sampling,” Kirby said.
So far, the origins and purposes of three most recent objects have not been identified. Officials have also been slow to characterize the items, refusing to call them balloons or detail their suspected capabilities.
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