Senators leave classified briefing with big questions
Senator Lindsey Graham speaking at the Lincoln Dinner in 2015. (Photo by John Pemble/Iowa Public Radio Images)

WASHINGTON — After U.S. air surveillance fine-tuned its radar to detect objects like the spy balloon from China and since have discovered a number of small objects that are floating over American skies, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told Raw Story that the spy balloon "sorta got people thinking differently about how to set the information."

There was a second classified briefing for the U.S. Senate on Tuesday morning and officials tell Raw Story that it's clear this is going to be a major issue for the U.S.

"I think it could be [commercial]," Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) told Raw Story after the meeting. "I think the point is we don't know. And they could — you're talking about commercial from China? They could be from anywhere. We don't know yet."

The Chinese argued at first that the balloon was a weather balloon. They then began calling it a "civilian airship."

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When Raw Story asked if it's surprising that so many of these are being reported Tester explained, "no because there's a lot of sh*t up there. I mean there's a lot of stuff — there's a lot of balloons that go up every day. Some of them there's a record of like what we send up for weather balloons, but some there isn't. I mean, we put up a balloon that was through the University of Montana and NASA 10 or 12 years ago that went up to 60,000 feet and we looked at it through binoculars. It was only up for about four or five hours maybe."

Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), who serves as the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, explained that there are “very little notification or registration requirements" for aerial objects that aren’t planes. So the FAA didn’t have any information on the objects that are small enough to not be detected by radar monitoring aircraft.

"There's still in my mind a question to be answered, from my understanding, there is not anywhere near as formal of a process as there should be," he said.

What the Senators were told about the last three objects is that they are still in "collection mode." The one in Alaska may never be fully recovered because access to it is difficult.

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"Under the Aero Program there is a sophisticated effort so that if pilots are seeing unidentified objects there is a reporting process and scientific analysis," said Warner. "I can tell you that for years there were reports of objects like this reported off the coast of Virginia."

He explained that the vast majority of those ended up being nothing nefarious.

Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) told reporters that the objects were "completely lost" and wouldn't be retrieved. That isn't the belief by other Senators it seems, however. The Alaska one is not only remote, Warner said, but it's approximately 20 degrees below zero at the retrieval site.

Others like the one that was over Canada and in Lake Huron are being actively retrieved.

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Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) left the classified briefing complaining that no information was being shared.

"I know they have information they're not making available," Rubio said of the Pentagon. He disagreed with "hiding" as a characterization, but said that "they certainly have information that is not available to us."

What they heard in the briefing, Rubio said, sounds just like all the other times, though he didn't explain when those briefings were or what he was referencing.

"This is not about space aliens in my mind, this is about an adversary developed the capability that we know we aren't seeing," said Rubio. "What's new is that they were shot down which is extraordinary. We've never done that."

He cited a January report saying that there are about 500 objects that were spotted that the government is trying to categorize.

"So the question now has to be, why are they setting up a new taskforce? Take this data, make it immediately available to scientists so you can cross-reference it and compare it to the other hundreds of cases that we have," said Rubio. "That's the only way you're going to get answers to what it's doing, whether it belongs here."

"Every time you see somethin' you have to make that informed decision" whether to shoot it down, Graham said. "Part of it is just being able to see better. Better radars to detect the FAA is looking at planes and missiles and you can tune these things down to see more."

He said that there might be more things shot down in the future, but "the point is to come up with a policy that makes sense. The bottom line is to come up with a more rational system."

"I don't think that there's any indication that objects were here to launch weapons at us," Rubio said. "But if an airplane sucks a vulture into an engine it's going to go down. So, most certainly if the object is the size of an ATV or a car collides with an airplane we're going to have a catastrophic event."

He argued that it was the reason that the objects were shot down even if they weren't spy balloons because they were operating at 20,000 feet, which is in the area of what commercial aircraft travels.

Once the objects are fully recovered Warner said that there would be more information.

"My hope would be that we are much more aggressive about trying to make sure that objects are up there for legitimate scientific, weather or other purposes that there is much better notification processes with authorities. That is where there seems to be a bit of a gap," Warner explained.

Graham agreed, "just because you see somethin' doesn't mean you should shoot it down. Just because you see something doesn't mean it's a threat."

Rubio complained that 99 percent of what was told to the Senators in the classified briefing were things that could be revealed to the public and he argued it should.