After ordering the military to shoot down four suspicious objects over U.S. airspace in just over a week, President Joe Biden does not have any plans to speak to the American people about his decisions, said the White House Monday.
After ordering the shootdown of a Chinese spy balloon by an Air Force F-22 on February 4, after it floated over U.S. airspace for a week, the president has not spoken publicly about the incident except for a brief mention during his February 7 State of the Union address.
“As we made it clear last week, if China threatens our sovereignty, we will act to protect our country. And we did,” said Biden about the balloon downing.
Since the president has ordered the military to shoot down three additional flying objects — the first over Alaska on Friday, the second above northwestern Canada on Saturday, and the third happening Sunday over Lake Huron. So far, none have been tied to China or any other country.
John Kirby, National Security Council spokesperson, told reporters Monday that the administration has been “as transparent as we can be” about the occurrences.
“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,” said Kirby. “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 doing what we can in the public sphere,” added Kirby.
President Biden’s silent, limited information was given by officials
With the president silent, much of the administration’s messaging about the unidentified objects flying over American skies has been left to Kirby and a few officials at the Pentagon, to the disdain of Republicans.
“President Biden owes the American people some answers,” said Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell 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 last week that would’ve posed unacceptable risks to public safety,” said GOP Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas 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.”
Monday, Kirby promised to provide more information after recovery efforts are completed for all downed objects. However, he warned the White House was still unlikely to detail how the surveillance balloon was detected and traced to China.
“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,” continued Kirby.
On Sunday, the Pentagon admitted NORAD has been keeping a watchful eye on radars since initially spotting the Chinese balloon on January 28, indicating that it partially accounts for the recent uptick in sightings of airborne objects.
“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,” said Melissa Dalton, Assistant Defense Secretary for Homeland Defense and Hemispheric Affairs. “But we also know that there is a range of entities out there…that operate objects at these altitudes for purposes that are not nefarious, including legitimate research.”
Kirby also said 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,” said Kirby.
So far, the purposes and origins of the three most recent objects have yet to be identified. Officials have also been slow to classify the items and have refused to call them balloons or give any details about their possible capabilities.