Senate Intel chair: Pilots were 'discouraged' from reporting suspicious flying objects for years

"I think there was some damage done by allowing" Chinese spy balloon "to float across the whole country," said Sen. Mark Warner.

Published: February 15, 2023 5:20pm

Updated: February 15, 2023 11:28pm

U.S. pilots were "discouraged" for years from reporting suspicious flying objects, according to Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Sen. Mark Warner.

"Pilots were frankly discouraged from reporting things because it might then hurt your career," the Virginia Democrat told Just the News. "The military made a very smart decision four or five years ago because things are showing up on radar, visual sightings went up, and they said, 'No, report.' Now, in the last two and a half years, under a project called [All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office], there is now a group that's funded" 

AARO is designed to discover and clarify what these objects might be for the federal government's knowledge, Warner explained. The Pentagon currently refers to unidentified flying objects as "unidentified aerial phenomena," he noted.

Warner lamented the Biden administration's handling of the China spy balloon, which drifted across U.S. airspace earlier this month before eventually being shot down off the coast of South Carolina.  

The U.S. later downed three other unidentified flying objects over a 3-day period.

"I think there was some damage done by allowing it to float across the whole country," said Warner, a Virginia Democrat, referring to the spy balloon. "I don't think there was anything unique about the data that was being collected."

Lawmakers told reporters after an intelligence briefing on Tuesday that China has been using flying objects for surveillance in the U.S. since at least 2017, and it's unclear why the Pentagon was not aware of it sooner.

NORAD is working to find the remnants of the last three unidentified objects, but they have been slowed down by poor weather conditions.

The Chinese government originally said the flying object the U.S. shot down was a lost weather balloon, but Warner emphasized it was "no doubt" a spy balloon.

Warner's comments were made after a news conference where Virginia elected officials urged the General Services Administration (GSA) to choose Springfield, Va. as the location for the new FBI headquarters.

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