Biden: 3 unidentified flying objects not apparently linked to China, surveillance

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden spoke Thursday about the government’s response to objects found flying over North America in recent weeks, marking his first public remarks on the objects.

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Four unidentified objects have been detected over North America since late last month. On Feb. 4, officials shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon off the coast of South Carolina after tracking it across the country for days. Unidentified objects were also shot down off the Northern coast of Alaska on Friday, over the Yukon on Saturday and over Lake Huron on Sunday.

Update 2:40 p.m. EST Feb. 16: Biden said he gave the order to take down the three objects flying over Alaska, the Yukon and Lake Huron at the recommendation of officials “due to hazards to civilian commercial air traffic and because we could not rule out the surveillance risk of sensitive facilities.”

The president said he had earlier directed officials to shoot down the suspected Chinese spy balloon as soon as it was safe. He had been told that the balloon -- which was roughly the size of three school buses -- could pose a threat to people on land if it were not shot down over water.

He said the incident sent a “clear message” that “the violation of our sovereignty is unacceptable.”

“Our experts have lifted components of the Chinese balloon’s payload off the ocean floor,” he said. “We’re analyzing them as I speak, and what we learn will strengthen our capabilities”

Update 2:35 p.m. EST Feb. 16: No evidence suggests a recent uptick in the number of unidentified objects in the sky despite an increase in recent reports of objects that have been shot down, Biden said.

“We’re now just seeing more of them partially because the steps we’ve taken to increase our radars,” the president said.

White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said Monday that Biden ordered intelligence officials to take a broad look at the phenomenon of unidentified aerial objects after he took office in January 2021. Since then, officials have been more closely scrutinizing North American airspace, he said.

Update 2:30 p.m. EST Feb. 16: Biden said three objects shot down off the coast of Alaska, over the Yukon and over Lake Huron do not appear to be linked to China. Officials continue to investigate who launched them.

“We don’t yet know exactly what these three objects were but nothing right now suggests they were related to China’s spy balloon program or that they were surveillance vehicles from any other country,” the president said.

“The intelligence community’s current assessment is that these three objects were most likely balloons tied to private companies, recreation or research institutions (studying) weather or conducting other scientific research.”

Original report: White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Biden’s comments on Thursday will include “our decisive response to China’s high-altitude surveillance balloon and the president putting the safety and security of the American people always first.” She declined to elaborate.

On Monday, White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said officials continued working to gather debris from the downed objects.

“The objects in Alaska and Canada are in pretty remote terrain,” he said. “Ice and wilderness — all of that making it difficult to find them in winter weather. The object over Lake Heron now lies in what is probably very deep water.”

Officials on Tuesday said much of the balloon shot off the coast of South Carolina had been recovered, including fabric, electronics and part of its structure.

The purpose of the objects shot near Alaska, over the Yukon and over Lake Huron remained unclear on Thursday. Officials said they were investigating to determine who launched them.