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The U.S. military shot down an unidentified object over Lake Huron on Sunday, the third such event in three days and the fourth in little more than a week.
President Biden ordered the downing of the UFO, which a U.S. official described as octagonal, with “strings hanging off” and no discernable payload.
The object was flying low at an altitude of about 20,000 feet when it was shot down by an F-16 fighter jet with a Sidewinder missile near the U.S.-Canadian border, the Pentagon said.
Here’s everything we know about the recent string of air defense activities playing out in the skies above the country.
How we got here
In late January, a suspected Chinese spy balloon appeared over the United States at about 60,000 feet near Alaska and hovered above the nation for days before Biden ordered an F-22 raptor to shoot it down off the coast of Myrtle Beach, S.C., on Feb. 4, and Navy divers began the process of recovering the balloon from a debris field stretching seven nautical miles. The recovered debris from the balloon was taken to an FBI laboratory in Quantico, Va., for analysis.
U.S. national security officials said that the balloon was potentially carrying explosives and hazardous material, which factored into Biden’s decision to delay shooting it down.
Five days later, on Feb. 9, an unknown object was spotted flying off the remote northern coast of Alaska. Biden ordered it shot down the following day. According to White House spokesman John Kirby, the object — roughly the size of a small car — was downed because it was flying at about 40,000 feet and posed a reasonable threat to the safety of civilian flights, not because of any knowledge that it was engaged in surveillance. Biden called the downing of the object “a success.”
On Saturday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that a U.S. fighter jet shot down an unidentified object that was flying high over the Yukon.
U.S. officials said that North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, the joint U.S.-Canada organization that provides shared defense of airspace over the two nations, detected the object flying at a high altitude on Friday evening over Alaska, and that it crossed into Canadian airspace on Saturday. Canadian and U.S. jets operating as part of NORAD were scrambled, and Trudeau said he spoke with Biden, who also ordered the object — about the size of three school buses — to be shot down.
On Sunday, Biden ordered the downing of the unidentified object over Lake Huron. The object was first detected in the skies above Montana.
In a bulletin, the Department of Homeland Security said that an FBI chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosives team was heading to the location of debris.
What officials are saying
In a briefing with reporters on Sunday, Gen. Glen VanHerck, head of NORAD and U.S. Northern Command, said the reason for the recent shootdowns was adjustments made to radar, allowing defense systems to track slower objects, combined with a “heightened alert” following the suspected Chinese spy balloon that emerged over U.S. airspace in late January.
“With some adjustments, we’ve been able to get a better categorization of radar tracks now," VanHerck said. “And that’s why I think you’re seeing these [shootdowns], plus there’s a heightened alert to look for this information.”
He clarified that objects shot down over the weekend were different than the suspected Chinese spy balloon.
“We’re calling them objects, not balloons, for a reason,” he said.
VanHerck was also asked whether he could rule out the possibility they were of extraterrestrial origin.
“I haven’t ruled out anything at this point,” VanHerck said.
What members of Congress are saying
On ABC’s “This Week,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said that U.S. officials were “focused like a laser” on gathering and accumulating the information about the downed objects.
But Schumer also said that the suspected Chinese spy balloon exposed a U.S. intelligence weakness.
“The bottom line is, until a few months ago, we didn’t know about these balloons,” Schumer said of the spy program. “It is wild that we didn’t know.”
Meanwhile, many Republicans criticized Biden for not ordering the suspected Chinese spy balloon to be brought down sooner.
But now, some of those same Republicans are questioning whether the Biden administration acted too hastily in ordering the objects shot down over the weekend.
“They do appear somewhat trigger-happy,” Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday. “This is certainly preferable to the permissive environment that they showed when the Chinese spy balloon was coming over some of our most sensitive sites.
“I would prefer them to be trigger-happy than to be permissive,” Turner added. “But we’re going to have to see whether or not this is just the administration trying to change headlines.”
What China is saying
A spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry on Monday alleged that the United States has sent at least 10 unsanctioned balloons into Chinese airspace since last year.
At a press briefing, the spokesman, Wang Wenbin, said that it was common for U.S. high-altitude balloons to fly into other countries’ airspace.
“The United States should first reflect on itself and change course, rather than slander, discredit or incite confrontation,” Wang said when asked whether the objects shot down by U.S. military were of Chinese origin.
What the White House is saying
The United States promptly denied Wang’s assertion as “the latest example of China scrambling to do damage control.”
“It has repeatedly and wrongly claimed the surveillance balloon it sent over the United States was a weather balloon, and to this day has failed to offer any credible explanations for its intrusion into our airspace and the airspace of others,” White House spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said in a statement.
At a press briefing at the White House on Monday, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said that there is “no indication of aliens or extraterrestrial activity.”
National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby said that U.S. officials were still working to identify the objects, and that the president has “made this a very top priority.”
Kirby said that he can’t rule out that the objects had surveillance capabilities, but stressed that they were downed because they posed a real threat to air traffic.
“We’re going to learn from these three events. We’re going to continue to study what happened,” Kirby added. “But bottom line for President Biden is, you’ve got to do the right thing for the American people, for our safety and security.”