US Security Experts: Latest Two Objects Shot Down Were Balloons
U.S. national security officials say they believe the latest two high-altitude objects shot down over the northern reaches of the United States and Canada were balloons, but much smaller than a Chinese spy balloon shot down over the Atlantic Ocean more than a week ago, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Sunday.
Schumer told ABC’s “This Week” show that he had been briefed Saturday night by President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, about the initial findings about the objects, one shot down over frozen waters near the state of Alaska on Friday and a second one Saturday over Canada’s Yukon region.
Schumer did not say where the balloons originated. But he said both were shot down by U.S. fighter jets, the second on authorization from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, after both were spotted on radar at about 12,000 meters (40,000 feet) above the Earth and were considered a threat to commercial aircraft that fly at a similar altitude.
“You can be sure that if any American interests where people are at risk, they’ll take appropriate action,” he said.
With the three balloon shootdowns in an eight-day period, U.S. authorities are trying to learn how they, until now, missed at least three balloon sightings during the White House tenure of former President Donald Trump and another earlier in Biden’s presidency, all believed to be part of a Chinese spy program conducted by Beijing’s People’s Liberation Army.
FILE - Senate Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Feb. 2, 2023.
“I think our military, our intelligence are doing a great job, present and future,” Schumer said. “I feel a lot of confidence in what they’re doing. But why — why as far back as the Trump administration did no one know about this?”
“It is wild that we didn’t know,” Schumer said. “Now they are learning a lot more. And the military and the intelligence are focused like a laser on, first, gathering and accumulating the information, then coming up with a comprehensive analysis of what went on before, what’s going on now, and what could go on in the future.”
China has acknowledged launching the first balloon, the one shot down February 4 off the coast of the southern state of South Carolina, but claimed it was a weather balloon that drifted off course, a contention that the U.S. has rejected. The U.S. concluded the balloon was a surveillance aircraft that could be maneuvered over key military installations as it drifted across the U.S. mainland.
Schumer said, “We got enormous intelligence information from surveilling the balloon as it went over the United States,” although both Republican and Democratic lawmakers have questioned why the U.S. did not shoot it down sooner than it did before the Chinese flew it over military bases. Biden ordered the U.S. military to shoot it down as soon as it was safe to do so without endangering Americans on the ground, which the military decided was only after it moved offshore.
The U.S. said this past week it had taken steps to jam information being sent from the balloon.
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Now, Schumer said that with Navy divers collecting parts of the balloon’s payload from the seabed for forensic analysis by FBI experts at a laboratory outside Washington, “We’re going to probably be able to piece together this whole … surveillance balloon and know exactly what’s going on. So that’s a huge coup for the United States.”
“I think the Chinese were humiliated,” Schumer said. “I think the Chinese were caught lying. And I think it’s a real — it’s a real step back for them.”
He predicted that Beijing is “probably going to have to get rid of [the balloon surveillance program] or do something, because they look really bad. And they’re not just doing [it over] the United States. This is a crew of balloons; we saw one in South America. They’ve probably been all over the world.”
Despite the U.S. conclusion about China’s balloon spying, Schumer said, “We can’t just have a Cold War with them. We have to have a relationship with them. But China has taken advantage of us over and over and over again.”
Published on 2023-02-12