White House briefing on unidentified objects in US airspace
National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications John Kirby said the suspected Chinese spy balloon that was shot down over United States airspace last week provided “limited” intelligence to China.
He said the craft was part of the People’s Republic of China high-altitude balloon program for intelligence gathering.
“We assessed that at this time, these balloons have provided limited additive capabilities to the PRC’s other intelligence platforms used over the United States,” he said at a White House press briefing Monday.
“But in the future, if the PRC continues to advance this technology, it certainly could become more valuable to them,” he added.
Kirby said the Chinese balloon program was operating during the Trump administration, but the objects were not detected then. Moving forward, the US is working to better understand and track these intelligence assets.
Kirby said efforts are underway to recover debris from the trio of smaller, lower high-altitude objects shot down off the coast of Alaska, over Canada, and over Lake Huron over the weekend, which, in contrast with last weekend’s Chinese surveillance balloon, were flying low enough to pose a threat to civilian air traffic.
“We are laser focused on confirming their nature and purpose, including through intensive efforts to collect debris in the remote locations where they have fallen,” Kirby said.
“In each instance, we have followed the same basic course — we assessed whether they posed any kinetic threat to people on the ground– they did not. We assessed whether they were sending any communication signals — we detected none. We looked to see whether they were maneuvering or had any propulsion capabilities —we saw no signs of that. And we made sure to determine whether or not they were manned or not.”
All three missions were completed “successfully and safely,” and recovery efforts are underway, though the administration acknowledged all three objects were shot down “in pretty remote terrain—ice and wilderness,” which have complicated reconnaissance efforts.
CNN’s DJ Judd contributed reporting to this post.