The decision to shoot down three aerial objects in recent days, after the detection of the alleged Chinese spy balloon, has led to demands for greater transparency from the Biden administration on how it is responding to such incidents. Critics have also called for the establishment of guidelines on how to approach similar situations in the future.
Biden officials provided a classified briefing on the aerial objects to senators on Tuesday, prompting some Republican lawmakers to call on Biden to address the nation about the incidents.
The White House this week said its leading theory was that the three unmanned objects were benign and harmless. Top U.S. officials said that companies and other entities sometimes send objects into high altitude for reasons that are not nefarious, including research.
Even so, they said, they decided to shoot down the objects because they posed a “reasonable” threat to civilian aircraft.
Biden officials also said the detection of the Chinese surveillance balloon last month — and the discovery that at least three such balloons had flown over the United States undetected during the Trump administration — made them realize they had been missing certain slow-moving objects, prompting the military to adjust its radar to better detect such items. That adjustment could explain, at least in part, why the three additional objects were identified in recent days.
Biden’s handling of the alleged Chinese surveillance aircraft has prompted sharp criticism from some Republicans, complaints that could increase with the recent revelation that U.S. military and intelligence agencies had been tracking the Chinese craft for nearly a week by the time it crossed into American airspace last month.
The balloon was first detected over Alaska before eventually making its way over the continental United States, where it flew over much of the country before the U.S. military shot it down off the Atlantic coast.
Biden said he ordered the military to bring down the balloon — which officials said had a payload roughly the size of three school buses — as soon as it was deemed safe. That was determined to be once the balloon reached airspace over open water, minimizing the risk that falling debris could pose to people on the ground.
But GOP lawmakers argued that the administration should have prevented the Chinese surveillance craft from flying over the United States to begin with. U.S. officials have said they do not think the balloon was able to gather information that could not have been acquired in other ways, such as using spy satellites, and that they were able to gather valuable information about China’s spy balloon program by observing the aircraft.