Biden wants ‘sharper rules’ on unknown aerial objects
President Joe Biden said Thursday that the U.S. is developing “sharper rules” to track, monitor and potentially shoot down unknown aerial objects, following three weeks of high-stakes drama sparked by the discovery of a suspected Chinese spy balloon transiting much of the country.
The president has directed national security adviser Jake Sullivan to lead an “interagency team” to review U.S. procedures after the U.S. shot down the Chinese balloon, as well as three other objects that Biden said the U.S. now believes are most likely “benign” objects launched by private companies or research institutions.
While not expressing regret for downing the three still-unidentified objects, Biden said he hoped the new rules would help “distinguish between those that are likely to pose safety and security risks that necessitate action and those that do not.”
“Make no mistake, if any object presents a threat to the safety and security of the American people I will take it down,” he added, repeating the legal justification cited for the downings — that the objects, flying between 20,000 and 40,000 feet posed a remote risk to civilian planes.
The downing of the Chinese surveillance craft was the first known peacetime shootdown of an unauthorized object in U.S. airspace — a feat repeated three times a week later.
Biden sharply criticized China’s surveillance program, saying the shootdown sent a “clear message, the violation of our sovereignty is unacceptable,” but said he looks to maintain open lines of communication with Beijing. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken postponed his first planned trip to China as the balloon was flying over the U.S., and a new meeting with his Chinese counterpart has yet to be scheduled.
“I expect to be speaking with President Xi and I hope we can get to the bottom of this,” Biden said, adding, “But I make no apologies for taking down that balloon.”
Biden said the rules would remain classified so as not to “give a roadmap to our enemies to try to evade our defenses.”
Rep. Jim Himes of Connecticut, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said he expected the U.S. would keep its radar systems set going forward to detect slow-moving balloons as well as fast-moving aircraft and other possible intruders. But he said he had impressed on White House officials late Tuesday that security forces would have to fine-tune their response for when they spot balloons of unknown provenance.