February 16, 2023 Biden delivers remarks on downed unidentified aerial objects

By Elise Hammond, Maureen Chowdhury, Tori B. Powell, Aditi Sangal, Adrienne Vogt and Matt Meyer, CNN

Updated 5:00 p.m. ET, February 16, 2023
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1:50 p.m. ET, February 16, 2023

Officials say two of the unidentified objects were carrying a payload

From CNN's Oren Liebermann, MJ Lee, Phil Mattingly, Natasha Bertrand and Kevin Liptak

United States officials are working to learn more about the three unidentified objects shot down over the weekend, giving new details in the last few days.

All three objects looked different, according to two US officials earlier this week. One official said they were approximately the same size. 

Multiple officials said the objects shot down in Alaska and over Canada were believed to have payloads, meaning that something was being carried by the object. Two officials said none of the three objects were believed to have propulsion, though the wreckage still needs to be examined to be sure. 

Here's what else we know about the objects:

  • Over Lake Huron: CNN reported that the most recent object, shot down over Lake Huron on Sunday, was “octagonal” in shape with strings hanging off and no discernible payload, according to a senior administration official. It was traveling at 20,000 feet when it was shot down, the Pentagon said Sunday.
  • Over northern Canada: The object shot down over the Yukon territory in Canada on Saturday appeared to be a balloon with a metal payload hanging underneath, according to the officials. The object was also traveling at 40,000 feet, Canadian Defense Minister Anita Anand. She went on to describe the object as a “cylindrical object” smaller than the Chinese surveillance balloon that was downed off the coast of South Carolina one week earlier.
  • Off the coast of northern Alaska: The object shot down Friday was metallic, and it broke into several pieces when it hit the sea ice, according to multiple US officials. That suggests it may have had some sort of structure to it, but officials won't know for sure until the object is recovered.

Officials have taken pains to distinguish the three objects shot down over the weekend and the Chinese balloon shot down over the Atlantic Ocean. The three later objects were all smaller in size and flying at a much lower altitude.

1:29 p.m. ET, February 16, 2023

What we know — and still don't know — about the unidentified objects the US shot down

Analysis from CNN's Paul LeBlanc

On February 10, an unidentified object was shot down in Alaska airspace by a US F-22. This photo from August 2022 shows a similar F-22 Raptor taking off from Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England.
On February 10, an unidentified object was shot down in Alaska airspace by a US F-22. This photo from August 2022 shows a similar F-22 Raptor taking off from Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England. (Airman Seleena Muhammad-Ali/US Air Force)

The US military shot down another high altitude object over Lake Huron on Sunday afternoon, the Pentagon said.

Another unidentified object was shot down over northern Canada on Saturday, marking the third time in a week that US fighter jets have taken down objects in North American airspace. Last Friday, an unidentified object was shot down in Alaska airspace by a US F-22. And on February 4, a Chinese surveillance balloon was taken down by F-22s off the coast of South Carolina.

That marks the beginning and the end of what we know definitively.

Here’s everything we still don’t know, and some of the things we do:

Are the latest objects related to China’s spy balloon? There’s no indication at this point whether the unidentified objects have any connection to China’s surveillance balloon.

Canadian retired Maj. Gen. Scott Clancy, former director of operations at NORAD and former deputy commander of the Alaskan NORAD Region, said on Monday he does not believe China is behind the unidentified objects that have been shot down in recent days. He explained that it could be a “confluence of a distinctive activity by our adversaries to test the systems.”

Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Hemispheric Affairs, Melissa Dalton told reporters on Sunday they were taken down out of an “abundance of caution.”

Dalton said that high-altitude objects can be used by a range of companies, countries, and research organizations for “purposes that are not nefarious, including legitimate research.”

No. They're not aliens. It’s still unclear, but we’re not dealing with aliens. During a midday briefing on Monday, the White House offered one detail of certainty: the objects did not originate from outer space.

“I just wanted to make sure we address this from the White House: I know there have been questions and concerns about this but there is no — again, no — indication of aliens or extraterrestrial activity with these recent take-downs,” press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.

A US official told CNN there has been caution inside the Biden administration on the pilot descriptions of the unidentified objects shot down over Alaska and Canada due to the circumstances in which the objects were viewed.

But at least two high-ranking officials have made reference to balloons.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told ABC News that he was briefed on the object by White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan and that the object shot down over Canada was likely another balloon — as was the high-altitude object downed over Alaska on Friday.

Canada’s chief of defense staff, Gen. Wayne Eyre, also made mention of a “balloon” when describing instructions given to the team that worked to take down the object.

A Pentagon memo sent to lawmakers and obtained by CNN said the object shot down over Canada appeared to be a “small, metallic balloon with a tethered payload below it.”

Why are these objects being spotted now? Notably, the US intelligence community’s method to track China’s fleet of surveillance balloons was only discovered within the last year, six people familiar with the matter told CNN.

The findings have allowed the US to develop a consistent technical method for the first time, which they have used to track the balloons in near-real time across the globe, the sources said.