‘I’ll take it down’: Biden vows action but says 3 objects shot down not spy vehicles

The president faced pressure from lawmakers to address the nation.

ByAlexandra Hutzler
February 17, 2023, 3:06 AM

President Joe Biden said he “acted out of an abundance of caution” when ordering the shooting down of three unidentified aerial objects flying over North American airspace this past weekend.

While the U.S. military is still working to recover the objects and U.S. intelligence officials are still assessing them, Biden said nothing currently suggests they were related to China’s surveillance program or that they were surveillance vehicles from other countries.

“But make no mistake, if any object presents a threat to the safety and security of the American people, I will take it down,” Biden said.

On the Chinese surveillance balloon, Biden added: “I make no apologies for taking down that balloon.”

The president’s remarks on Thursday were the first time he’s commented extensively on the issue, coming more than two weeks after the Chinese spy balloon was spotted over Montana. He faced growing calls from lawmakers on both sides for greater transparency with the public.

Biden declined to answer questions shouted by reporters as he wrapped his remarks, including a question about whether the shootdowns of the three objects were an overreaction on his part prompted by political pressure.

Though the NBC News reporter later said Biden called later to respond, stating he was not responding to political pressure when he gave the orders to take down the objects.

MORE: 4 flying objects have been shot down over North America: Timeline of key moments

PHOTO: President Joe Biden speaks about the Chinese surveillance balloon and other unidentified objects shot down by the U.S. military, Feb. 16, 2023, in Washington.
President Joe Biden speaks about the Chinese surveillance balloon and other unidentified objects shot down by the U.S. military, Feb. 16, 2023, in Washington.
Evan Vucci/AP

The balloon that traversed the continental U.S. between Jan. 28 and Feb. 4 added tension to the already fraught U.S.-China relationship. Biden was criticized by Republicans for not taking action to shoot the balloon down earlier, though he said he ordered it be taken down as soon as possible but his military advisers said it was too risky to do over land.

“We waited until it was safely over water, which would not only protect civilians but it also enable us to recover substantial components for further analytics,” he said. “And then we shot it down, sending a clear message, clear message: the violation of our sovereignty is unacceptable. We’ll act to protect our country and we did.”

Biden said the U.S. has been engaging with China over the past two weeks and that he expects to speak with President Xi Jinping to “get to the bottom of this.”

“Since the beginning of my administration we seek competition, not conflict with China. We’re not looking for a new cold war,” Biden said. “But I make no apologies and we will compete.”

After the spy balloon was shot down, three unidentified aerial objects were also downed by the U.S. military over three successive days — one over Alaska, one over Canada and the third over Lake Huron in Michigan.

The U.S. acted in coordination with Canada, Biden said, adding that he personally spoke to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau over the weekend. The two militaries are currently working together to recover debris.

The administration has yet to confirm what those objects were or where they came from, though White House spokesperson John Kirby said earlier this week a “leading explanation” within the intelligence community is that the objects may have been for commercial or benign use.

Biden echoed that sentiment Thursday, saying while they still don’t know for sure, the objects were “most likely balloons tied to private companies, recreation or research institutions” for weather purposes or scientific research.

“I want to be clear we don’t have any evidence that there has been a sudden increase in the number of objects in the sky,” Biden said. “We’re now just seeing more of them, partially because of the steps we’ve taken to increase our radars.”

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