When President Biden gave the order Sunday for a fighter jet to shoot down an unidentified aerial object over Lake Huron, aides said he did so out of an abundance of caution and on the recommendation of military commanders, amid concern it was floating at altitudes that might jeopardize civilian aircraft. It’s the third such object downed over North America since the Chinese spy balloon that generated public outcry during its transcontinental voyage was shot from the sky above the Atlantic Ocean the previous weekend.
Unlike China’s craft, the subsequent trio showed no signs of having propulsion systems and did not appear to target sensitive military sites. Authorities say they really don’t know the origin or purpose of the three – but did tell people not to worry that they were sent by aliens.
That such reassurance was deemed necessary was a sign of the panic that these objects have the potential to generate, and also of the imperative to get to the bottom of what is actually going on. As Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) put it: “We need the facts about where they are originating from, what their purpose is, and why their frequency is increasing.”
The White House deserves credit for trying to be as transparent as possible about the most recent shootdowns, including candor about all the known unknowns. But to combat misinformation, it’s vital that the current openness continues as investigators are able to gather wreckage and, hopefully, discover answers to the many basic questions being asked. It is also worth noting that it is now believed Chinese spy balloons also made incursions into U.S. airspace during the Trump administration, but that those went unreported – and possibly undetected.
The three objects that have been most recently shot down aren’t necessarily cause for alarm. Officials say one reason so many unidentified aerial vehicles are suddenly being identified is because the Pentagon has widened the aperture and search parameters. The objects could turn out to belong to companies or universities, for example. “One of the reasons that we think we’re seeing more is because we’re looking for more,” said National Security Council spokesman John Kirby. “Even though we had no indications that any of these three objects were surveilling, we couldn’t rule that out.”
Some are demanding a nationally televised presidential address. That seems unnecessary at this juncture, unless it’s to reveal new facts.
But it also makes sense to develop a framework for how to approach future such incidents. On Monday, Mr. Biden directed an interagency team, under the direction of the national security adviser, to study the broader policy implications for detection, analysis and disposition of unidentified aerial objects that pose either safety or security risks. This effort could provide important perspective. Not every balloon that appears in the sky over North America needs to be fired upon by a costly missile. It’s harder still to see the need for an even costlier balloon defense program, although military contractors will certainly try to pitch them to lawmakers. To best protect the American people, it’s important to approach these incursions clear-eyed, calmly and without partisan gamesmanship.
– The Washington Post, Feb. 13, 2023
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