Schumer says latest high-altitude ‘objects’ shot down over Alaska and Canada believed to be balloons

Two objects shot down initially branded unidentified objects

John Bowden
Washington DC
Sunday 12 February 2023 16:09 GMT
US jet shoots down another mystery 'object' over Canada

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on Sunday that members of the US military and intelligence community believe that two objects shot down in recent days over Alaska and Canada were balloons. Mr Schumer said the objects were smaller than the suspected Chinese surveillance balloon downed off the coast of South Carolina last weekend.

Mr Schumer confirmed the news on ABC’s This Week during an interview with George Stephanopoulos.

“Were these balloons, [shot down] Friday, Saturday night?” asked the ABC host.

“They believe they were,” Mr Schumer responded, referring to the US military. “But smaller than the, the first one.”

It was confirmation that was paired with another revelation from Mr Schumer: That the US intelligence has confirmed it only learned about this Chinese surveillance program recently.

“Until a few months ago, we didn’t know about these balloons. Our intelligence, and our military, didn’t know. This went as far back as President Trump, at least three times,” he said.

Mr Schumer agreed with Mr Stephanopoulos during the interview that such an admission by the intelligence community was “wild”. US officials have confirmed over the past two weeks that a number of Chinese surveillance balloons have breached US airspace before, including during the Trump administration.

Norad announced over the weekend that one craft was downed on Saturday evening; President Joe Biden had ordered another shot down just a day earlier. Canada’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau, says his country is heading up the retrieval effort for the third craft while the second was shot down off the north coast of Alaska.

The downing of two more suspected balloons came over the weekend after the initial shootdown of one such craft over South Carolina on 4 February. That initial incident triggered criticism of the president from members of the House and Senate, who questioned why it was not done earlier before the craft could traverse the continental United States. Lisa Murkowski, senator from Alaska, was particularly incensed and accused the administration of viewing her state as an afterthought.

Officials in Beijing have confirmed that the first craft was of Chinese origin, while referring to it as a weather balloon that had strayed accidentally into US airspace. US officials have strongly contested that claim, and stated that the craft carried advanced surveillance equipment. Chinese officials condemned the destruction of the first craft, while Defense Secreary Lloyd Austin defended it as a response to an “unacceptable violation of our sovereignty”.

The Chinese foreign ministry released a statement noting Beijing’s “strong dissatisfaction and protests against the use of force by the United States to attack the unmanned civilian airship”, calling its destruction “an obvious overreaction and a serious violation of international practice” and adding that its government “reserve[s] the right to take further necessary responses”.

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