Enterprise-Record (Chico)

Latest downed objects could well be ‘benign,’ US says

- By Tara Copp, Eric Tucker, Colleen Long and Nomaan Merchant

The three still-unidentifi­ed aerial objects shot down by the U.S. in the past week likely had merely a “benign purpose,” the White House acknowledg­ed Tuesday, drawing a distinctio­n between them and the massive Chinese balloon that earlier traversed the U.S. with a suspected goal of surveillan­ce.

“The intelligen­ce community is considerin­g as a leading explanatio­n that these could just be balloons tied to some commercial or benign purpose,” said White House national security spokesman John Kirby.

Officials also disclosed that a missile fired at one of the three objects, over Lake Huron on Sunday, missed its intended target and landed in the water before a second one successful­ly hit.

The new details came as the Biden’s administra­tion’s actions over the past two weeks faced fresh scrutiny in Congress.

First, U.S. fighter jets didn’t shoot down what officials described as a Chinese spy balloon until after had crossed much of the United States, citing safety concerns. Then the military deployed F-22 fighters with heat-seeking missiles to quickly shoot down what likely were harmless objects.

Taken together, the actions raised political as well as security questions, about whether the Biden administra­tion overreacte­d after facing Republican criticism for reacting too slowly to the big balloon.

Even as more informatio­n about the three objects emerges, questions remain about what they were, who sent them and how the U.S. might respond to unidentifi­ed airborne objects in the future.

Still unaddresse­d are questions about the original balloon, including what spying capabiliti­es it had and whether it was transmitti­ng signals as it flew over sensitive military sites in the United States. It was believed by American intelligen­ce to have initially been on a track toward the U.S. territory of Guam, according to a U.S. official.

The U.S. tracked it for several days after it left China, said the official, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligen­ce. It appears to have been blown off its initial trajectory and ultimately flew over the continenta­l U.S., the official said.

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