Washington, Feb 12 (EFE).- The US government believes that the two latest flying objects shot down over North America were balloons, although much smaller than the alleged Chinese “spy” balloon downed off the South Carolina coast last week, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters on Sunday.
The United States on Feb. 4 shot down a large Chinese balloon carrying a metallic framework the size of several buses underneath that Washington suggested was “spying” on communications and performing other surveillance functions.
Since then the US has downed two more such objects, one over Alaska and the other over Canada, although the two governments so far have provided only minimal details on those operations.
In an interview with ABC, Schumer said that President Joe Biden’s team thinkst that the two latest objects were also balloons, but “much smaller than the first one.”
The Democratic senator, who was informed about the objects by White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, said that the balloons were flying at 12,000 meters (about 40,000 feet), an altitude at which they posed a “danger” to commercial aviation.
Schumer emphasized that up until a few months ago the US did not know anything about these balloons, adding that the US Army and intelligence services are now focused on gathering all the information they can and recovering the debris from the shootdowns.
He told ABC that Beijing was probably using a “crew of balloons” that had “probably been all over the world”.
“The bottom line is, until a few months ago we didn’t know of these balloons – our intelligence and our military didn’t know,” Schumer said, adding that “I think the Chinese were caught lying, and it’s a real step back for them – they look really bad.”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced on Saturday that an object overflying the remote northwestern province of Yukon had been shot down with a missile by a US F-22 fighter jet after “violating Canadian airspace.” Canada had authorized the shootdown.
On Friday, the US downed another object of unknown origin that was flying at high altitude over Alaska, the remains of which fell into frozen waters.
Both incidents occurred amid the diplomatic crisis that erupted between the US and China last week when the US military shot down an alleged Chinese “spy” balloon that had overflown a large portion of the continental US at about 60,000 feet, first Alaska, then a portion of Canada, then in a southeasterly direction over Montana, Missouri and finally South Carolina.
The Biden administration accuses China of having developed a military “program” of spy balloons and that it had already overflown more than 40 countries on five continents.
China has claimed that the balloon the US shot down on Feb. 4 was merely a weather balloon that “went off course” due to unavoidable problems.
The Feb. 4 balloon incident has strained US-China relations, motivating Secretary of State Antony Blinken to cancel his planned trip to Beijing.