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Biden says objects shot down over North America last week appear to not be part of China’s spy balloon operation

Tyler Thompson / U.S. Navy

President Joe Biden on Thursday said the US has no indication that the three objects shot down in North American air space are tied to China's spy balloon program and are likely from private entities.

"We don't yet know exactly what these three objects were but nothing right now suggests they were related to China's spy balloon program or that they were surveillance vehicles from any other country," Biden said from the White House. "The intelligence community's current assessment is that these three objects were most likely balloon tied to private companies, recreation or research institutions studying weather or conducting other scientific research."

The remarks were Biden's first formal remarks on the objects shot from the sky last weekend over Canada and the US.

Federal officials have said an initial Chinese surveillance balloon downed off the coast of South Carolina earlier this month was capable of conducting signals intelligence collection operations and had a payload around the size of three buses. By comparison, the subsequent objects, which haven't been attributed to a specific country or entity, are believed to be much smaller.

The US is now also increasingly confident that the three objects that were downed between Friday and Sunday were "benign" balloons.

It's anticipated that new protocols on how the US will handle similar unidentified objects going forward will be released this week.

Administration officials from the Pentagon, State Department and intelligence community have briefed lawmakers on Capitol Hill on the initial Chinese spy balloon in recent days.

Republicans on Capitol Hill have criticized Biden for not approving the military to down the first balloon quickly enough, letting it sail eastward for days. They've also called on him to speak on the matter.

But administration officials argued that the US didn't move earlier to shoot down the balloon in part over fears it could provoke an escalation of military tensions with China. They also told lawmakers the balloon was not first shot down when it entered Alaskan airspace because the waters there are cold and deep, making it less likely they could have recovered the balloon.

And officials had been wary of having the president speak publicly about the objects until more information was gathered about the three unidentified objects that were downed last weekend.

This is a breaking story and will be updated.

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