Times-Call (Longmont)

Biden wants ‘sharper rules’ on unknown aerial objects

- By Zeke Miller and Chris Megerian

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 Antony 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.

“The White House scrambling fighters and tankers” and special forces, he said, “is not going to be a scalable solution to every bit of airborne junk.”

The Chinese balloon has escalated tensions between the U.S. and China. Blinken travels Thursday to the Munich

Security Conference and there is speculatio­n he might use the opportunit­y to meet top Chinese foreign policy official Wang Yi, who will also be attending the conference.

Biden had remained largely silent on the objects downed Friday off the coast of Alaska, Saturday over Canada and Sunday over Lake Huron. On Monday, the White House announced earnestly there was no indication of “aliens or extraterre­strial activity.” By Wednesday, U.S. officials said they were still working to locate the wreckage from the objects, but that they expected all three to be unrelated to surveillan­ce efforts.

“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. No country or private company has come forward to claim any of the objects, Kirby said. They do not appear to have been operated by the U.S. government.

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