WASHINGTON (AP) — Three people familiar with the matter said the White House has been discussing privately whether to have President Joe Biden directly address an issue that has captivated much of the country: what to do about unmanned and unidentified aerial objects spotted over US territory.
As the administration works to recover wreckage from the downing of a Chinese spy balloon off the coast of South Carolina on Feb. 4, as well as debris from three still-unidentified objects shot down in the days that followed, Biden’s comments have been sparing.
As the mystery surrounding the objects deepened, lawmakers became increasingly critical of his reticence. There are currently no plans for Biden to deliver a national address, as previous presidents have done in times of national anxiety and concern.
Reporters have pressed Biden for details on the unusual occurrence of US fighter jets destroying unidentified objects floating overhead. An appropriate time for Biden to make a more comprehensive statement about the shootdowns could come by the end of the week, when the government is expected to announce the development of new protocols to deal with unidentified aircraft like the ones destroyed this week.
The goal of the government review, announced Monday by the White House, is to bring together military and civilian stakeholders to determine what the proliferation of airborne objects means for national security interests and air travel safety, as well as to develop protocols to deal with future unidentified aircraft.
According to a person familiar with the situation, the White House intends to provide Congress with a classified briefing on new standards that will be used when such objects are encountered in U.S. skies.
According to a White House official, there are “active conversations” about when Biden should address it publicly, and the consensus among his team has been to wait for more information.
Asked whether Biden may speak out, Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, said at a briefing Tuesday: “I don’t have anything to read out on the president speaking to this. I can assure you that the president takes this very seriously.”
Delivering a presidential address before the White House has a complete understanding of the facts carries significant risks. One would needlessly alarm the public, while the other would give it a false sense of security. At a news conference on Tuesday, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said that, aside from the Chinese spy balloon, intelligence officials believe the objects downed in recent days were for research or commercial purposes and thus “benign.”
Kirby added that investigators are still looking for debris.
According to Biden’s advisers, putting him in the spotlight to deliver incomplete information will only feed perceptions that the objects are a bigger problem than administration officials believe.
“Not everything is a five-alarm fire,” according to a White House official.
Even so, Congress is growing impatient. After he and other senators got a classified briefing Tuesday about the aerial objects, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., told reporters: “I have a better understanding, but the American people deserve and need to know more. I am not concerned about an impending attack or physical harm to our homeland. That is my personal opinion. However, more facts are needed to reassure the American people.”