WASHINGTON — Authorities continued working Monday to recover debris from three unidentified objects that were recently shot out of U.S. and Canadian airspace.
Officials shot down an object detected off the Northern coast of Alaska on Friday, over the Yukon on Saturday and over Lake Huron on Sunday. White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said Monday that few specifics were known about the objects, but all were flying at 20,000 to 40,000 feet of altitude and posed a risk to air traffic.
“We … know that a range of entities, including countries, companies, research and academic organizations, operate objects at these altitudes for purposes that are not nefarious at all, including scientific research,” Kirby said at a White House press briefing. “That said, because we have not yet been able to definitively assess what these most recent objects are, we acted out of an abundance of caution to protect … our security, our interests and flight safety.”
He added that authorities do not believe the objects posed any threat to people on the ground and echoed an earlier statement from White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre that the objects did not appear to be extraterrestrial.
“We are laser-focused on determining their nature and purpose,” he said.
The objects downed in Alaska and Canada are in areas described by Kirby as “pretty remote,” with icy and wild conditions that have complicated the search for debris. Kirby said the object shot down over Lake Heron “now lies in what is probably very deep water.”
Officials could not rule out the possibility that the flying objects might have been used for surveillance, although they did not find any indications that they were being used for that purpose.
“In each instance, we have followed the same basic course,” Kirby said on Monday.
“We assessed whether they posed any kinetic threat to people on the ground. They did not. We assessed whether they were sending any communication signals. We detected none. We looked to see whether they were maneuvering or had any propulsion capabilities. We saw no signs of that. And we made sure to determine whether or not they were manned. They were not.”
The objects were flying lower than the Chinese surveillance balloon shot out of the sky off the coast of South Carolina earlier this month. Authorities had watched and studied the balloon as it spent days traversing the U.S. and Canada.
“There is no question in our minds that that system was designed to surveil,” Kirby said. “That was an intelligence asset.”
He said that authorities earlier determined that China is running an intelligence collection program that uses high-altitude balloons. He added that the program was operating during the previous presidential administration, though it went undetected until after President Joe Biden got into office.
“We know that these (People’s Republic of China) surveillance balloons have crossed over dozens of countries on multiple continents around the world, including some of our closest allies and partners,” Kirby said. “We assessed that at this time, these balloons have provided limited added capabilities to the PRC’s other intelligence platforms used over the United States, but in the future, if the PRC continues to advance this tech, it certainly could become more valuable to them.”
Officials continue working to gather debris from the balloon that was shot down on Feb. 4. So far, authorities have recovered fabric, some electronics and some of the balloon’s structure.
Kirby said Monday that it was not clear how long it would take to gather all the debris.