Objects shot down Friday and Saturday thought to be balloons, Schumer says

U.S. national security officials believe the unidentified objects shot down on Friday and Saturday were balloons, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Sunday.

“They believe they were, yes, but much smaller than that — than that — first,” Schumer said on ABC’s “This Week,” after being briefed by National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan.

Both balloons shot down this week were flying at 40,000 feet, so it “was immediately determined” that they posed a threat to commercial aircraft, which fly at the same level, Schumer said.

Following criticism for moving too slowly in shooting down a Chinese spy balloon floating over the United States earlier this month, the Biden administration shot down an unidentified cylindrical object over Alaskan airspace and, after in discussions with Canada, it shot down a separate object in violation of Canadian airspace on Saturday. .

Schumer went on to defend the Biden administration’s timing in knocking down the first ball as a different situation. That balloon crossed North America before an F-22 shot it down off the Carolina coast.

Transport Secretary Pete Buttigieg said last week that the first balloon “was over where flight operations take place, so any debris would have passed through national airspace.”

“We got tremendous intelligence from surveillance of the balloon as it flew over the United States,” Schumer said Sunday, adding that the United States will “probably be able to piece together” the entire balloon to learn more.

Asked by host George Stephanopoulos whether China got any information regardless, Schumer said, “They could have gotten it anyway, but we need to know what they’re doing.”

Rep. Mike Turner, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, called for an aggressive stance on the downing of airborne objects on Sunday.

“I’d rather they were trigger-happy than permissive,” Turner (R-Ohio) said of the Biden administration, speaking on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “But we’ll have to see if this is just the administration trying to change the titles.”

Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.), the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, told NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday that he has “real concerns about why the administration is no longer available.”

“My guess is that there isn’t a lot of information out there to share yet,” Himes said.

While such objects have “sometimes” crossed U.S. airspace, the current scale is unprecedented, Turner said.

“It is certainly a new and recent development that China is so aggressive in entering other countries’ airspace and doing it with clear espionage intentions, with very sophisticated equipment,” he said.

U.S. radar sensors have been primarily concerned with threats that don’t look like balloons, but they may find more now that they’re looking for them, Himes said.

Turner said the incidents speak to a broader issue of airspace defense for the United States, including “inadequate” radar and the lack of an integrated missile defense system.

“This is a game changer that we need to discuss. Is this a threat and how do we respond?” he said.

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