Objects shot down aren't from China, likely ‘benign’, Kirby says

Last updated on February 14, 2023

The U.S. does not believe that the three unidentified objects shot down over North America last weekend were from China or posed a national security threat, National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said Tuesday.

“We don’t see anything that points right now to being part of [China’s] spy balloon program,” Kirby told reporters. It’s unlikely the objects were used in “intelligence collection against the United States of any kind — that’s the indication now,” he added.

Intelligence officials believe the objects, which were shot down a week after a Chinese spy balloon was downed off the coast of South Carolina, could be “tied to some commercial or benign purpose,” he said.

American forces decided to target the objects because of concerns about potential surveillance, Kirby said on MSNBC later on Tuesday, so they “acted out of an abundance of caution.” No other objects are being tracked, he said.

It’s still unclear what the objects were, and administration officials have provided few details. Senators received another classified briefing from the administration on the incursions on Tuesday, but they haven’t shed much light.

As for the Chinese spy balloon that was shot down on Feb. 4, officials expect to learn more about its payload in the coming days as crews continue to retrieve materials, Kirby said. On Monday, U.S. Northern Command said it had recovered critical electronics including key sensors presumably used for intelligence gathering.

When the balloon was shot down over the Atlantic, some materials floated while the payload, which carries critical information about the airship, sank to the “ocean bottom,” FBI officials told reporters last week. Crews have since successfully recovered parts of the balloon.

But two of the objects shot down over the weekend were downed over the Yukon and Lake Huron, locations that may make recovery impossible, officials said.

“We are working very hard to locate them, but there is no guarantee that we will,” said Sean McGillis, Royal Canadian Mounted Police acting deputy commissioner. “The terrain in Yukon is rather treacherous right now… the same could be said about what’s taking place in Lake Huron.”

Joseph Gedeon, Kelly Garrity and Paul McLeary contributed to this report.