The three still-unidentified aerial objects shot down by the US in the past week likely had a “benign purpose,” the White House acknowledged on Tuesday, drawing a distinction between them and the massive Chinese balloon that earlier traversed the US with a suspected goal of surveillance.
The White House on Monday also said that the three objects were not alien in origin, a conspiracy theory that began to run wild after Pentagon spokesperson General Glen D. VanHerck said he hadn’t “ruled out” the possibility.
Now, the “leading explanation” is that the unidentified objects were probably balloons or similar gadgets that were launched for commercial or research purposes, said White House national security spokesman John Kirby. At a press briefing on Tuesday, Kirby said that there was no indication that the objects belonged to foreign intelligence services. This followed earlier statements made Monday that the objects did not have their own propulsion mechanisms, but moved at the mercy of the wind.
“We don’t see anything that points right now to being part of the PRC spy balloon program,” Kirby told reporters, referring to the People’s Republic of China. It’s also not likely the objects were “intelligence collection against the United States of any kind – that’s the indication now.”
“The intelligence community is considering as a leading explanation that these could just be balloons tied to some commercial or benign purpose,” he added.
Kirby also acknowledged that finding the remains of the downed objects is proving difficult, and that it is possible that they will not be recovered. It is a challenging task given the objects – small to begin with – were shot by a missile over remote locations in the Canadian Yukon, off northern Alaska and near the Upper Peninsula of Michigan on Lake Huron.
Officials also disclosed that a missile fired at one of the three objects, over Lake Huron on Sunday, missed its intended target and landed in the water before a second one successfully hit.
After the suspected Chinese spying balloon was detected, the United States adjusted the parameters of its radars. It’s usually difficult to detect objects moving at high altitude and low speed, but with these filter changes, several unidentified flying objects were identified last week. Air forces shot down one over northern Alaskan waters on Friday, another over Canada’s Yukon region on Saturday, and a third over Lake Huron on Sunday.
Both Democrats and Republicans have called for more transparency regarding the incidents. In Washington, Pentagon officials met with senators for a classified briefing on the shootdowns. Lawmakers conveyed concerns from their constituents about a need to keep them informed and came away assured the objects were not extraterrestrial in nature but wanting many more details.
Republicans have been criticizing US President Joe Biden for waiting to shoot down the Chinese balloon, which was first detected in the Aleutian Islands in Alaska and then shot down off the coast of South Carolina. The White House argues that it waited until the balloon was over waters, and falling debris would not pose a risk to the population.
Kirby on Monday also said that the suspected Chinese spying program was already underway during the presidency of Donald Trump. “It was operating during the previous administration, but they did not detect it. We detected it,” he said.
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