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Three Unidentified Objects Blown Out Of The Sky In Three Days; Mystery Depends As U.S. Fighter Jets Down 3 Objects In Past 3 Days; CNN: Pressure On Biden To Break Silence On Downed Objects; McCarthy Looks To GOP's "Five Families" To Avoid Debt Default. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired February 13, 2023 - 12:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Hello and welcome to "Inside Politics". I'm John King in Washington. Thank you for sharing your day with us. A mid-air mystery, the United States shoots down more unidentified objects flying over North America. Right now Washington knows about as much as you do. Not much.


SEN. JON TESTER (D-MT): What's gone on in the last two weeks or so 10 days has been nothing short of craziness and the military needs to have a plan to not only determine what's out there but determine the dangers that go with it.


KING: Plus the Republican House Speaker convenes what he calls the heads of the five families of the Republican Caucus. He wants to forge a consensus and to prove wrong Democrats who predicted House Republicans in the end will blink and vote to raise the debt limit without winning spending cuts.

And alive under the debris, sniffer dogs, thermal cameras do find signs of life in both Turkey and Syria. But for every miracle there is mourning. Tens of thousands of in beneath twisted metal destined for mass graves.

Up for us for this hour triggers intentions thanks to well we don't really know floating over North American Aerospace. U.S. fighter jet shooting down three something's in a one than another then another weekend aerial test. The latest object popped up on radar over Montana for that blip disappeared.

That appeared again a day later, the Pentagon dispatching an F-16 to scrub it from the sky - you're on. It follows two different shoot downs of two more unidentified objects one over Canada, the other over Alaska information flow virtually non-existent?

Yes, the Pentagon does acknowledge the shoot downs happened, and at what altitudes the office were hovering, but not telling us much more. The President said nothing over the weekend, though in each case, he did issue the orders for U.S. jets to shoot down the objects with missiles. Let's get the very latest from CNS's Natasha Bertrand. Natasha, there's a lot we don't know, what do we know?

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Yes, John. So we still don't know where these objects came from, or what they even are? But what we are told is that the first and second objects that were shot down over Alaska and Northern Canada, over the weekend, those did have some balloon like features.

And they also had a small metal cylinder underneath them. Now it is unclear, of course, whether those were actual spy balloons or what their purpose was? But those are the very preliminary details that we've gotten from officials. And those objects were also flying at about 40,000 feet. So they post a risk according to officials to civilian aircraft.

We're also told that Sunday's object, the one that was shot down over at Lake Huron in Michigan, that was flying at around 20,000 feet. And it was described by officials as octagonal and it had strings hanging off of it. And it did importantly, according to the Pentagon, potentially have surveillance capabilities.

So again, unclear at this point, what these objects actually are, or if they're - if they were deployed by a nation state or if they were deployed by private company. But the military officials that we spoke to said that they took these actions shooting down these objects as a precaution because these objects potentially did pose a threat to civilian aircraft, John.

KING: So we still don't know a lot about what they were or where they came from any explanation as to why all of a sudden, more of these objects are being picked up?

BERTRAND: Yes, the Defense Department did confirm last night that after this Chinese spy balloon transited the U.S. last week and caused kind of a political uproar against the Biden Administration for how they handled that?

The Defense Department did widen the aperture essentially of what their radar was capable of detecting over American skies. And what they did was they changed the filters basically to make it so that they could spot objects that were traveling at a certain altitude that were slow moving that are potentially smaller, of course than what they usually track.

And that is when they started picking up all of these kinds of smaller objects in U.S. airspace that they had not been able to detect before. And that is why, according to the Pentagon, there have been a number of - an increased number of the instances that they have been tracking over the last couple days, John.

KING: Natasha Bertrand continuing what has been breathtaking reporting in recent days, Natasha, thank you keeps us in the best information we can have as we go. With me now to share some critical perspective is the Former Deputy Director of National Intelligence, Beth Sater. Let's just start with what Natasha just said the two one over candidate one of over Alaska balloon like features. The one the octagonal shaped one that was over Montana then shot down near Lake Huron. Octagonal, maybe some strings hanging down.

You did this for a living. We were talking before we came on the air. This is not new 250 of these unidentified objects up in the air in the past year or so. Anything from that description that triggers a memory or clue as to where?

BETH SANNER, FORMER DEPUTY DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Well, the intelligence community has been tasked along with the military for looking at these unidentified aerial phenomena UAP. And so two different studies have now been done and reports to Congress.


SANNER: The last one came out in January and said, as you said, there have been 250 objects found since about last March in the skies. About half of those are things that are balloon or balloon like, and not all of those are surveillance. So I think pretty familiar there, but half of them, we still don't actually know what they are,

KING: We still don't know what they are. So listen here this is the Former Chief of NORAD saying we don't know what they are. So be suspicious of everybody.


GENERAL GLEN VANHERCK, COMMANDER OF NORAD AND US NORTHCOM: I'll let the Intel community and the counterintelligence community figure that out, I haven't ruled out anything at this point. We continue to assess every threat or potential threat unknown that approaches North America with an attempt to identify it.


KING: That's the current NORTHCOM Commander; there wasn't exactly what I was looking for. But he's making the point he was asked the question, could this be some alien, and he would not rule it out. I assume that's just to leave a broad.

SANNER: There was a lot of discussion when we first started looking at this and 2021 that these were aliens. And I think that since then people have kind of pulled back and said, you know, most of these things probably can be explained.

But to me, these stories really come together, right? Because the things that pilots have been seeing. And many times were discouraged from talking about there was a stigma with that. They could very well be spy or other kinds of threats. And so it's important to get these things out there.

KING: So three - this weekends?

SANNER: Yes. KING: If there are 250 of these reported over the past year, some of them are just balloons some of them are Blips. But let's assume there are dozens and dozens of unidentified objects up there. Can the United States shoot down every one that pops up over Canadian or American airspace? What happens now?

SANNER: No, exactly. So I actually think that the Biden Administration has handled this really well, in terms of not shooting it down right away, taking a look at it, being able to recover the spy balloon, and scrambling.

But we don't have the interest or the capacity to keep scrambling F- 20s every time we see an object in the sky. So now we've got to really focus and say, how do we identify things that are actual threats?

KING: How to identify things that are actual threat? So what conversations are happening now? You had a confirmed Chinese spy balloon, and then you have these other objects. They could be private? They could be Russian, they could be Chinese, and they could be who? Who else? Let me start there. Who else have nation states around the globe does this?

SANNER: Well, we know that lots of nation states fly drones. And at least one of these might be a drone and not a balloon. Unclear to me at this point, we will find out. But like over Prudhoe Bay, we could easily have the Russians do this, just like they surveyed Norwegian oil infrastructure.

Prudhoe Bay is the largest conventional oilfield in America. And so, you know, it could be lots of things. It could be commercial. But in terms of other nation states, Iran has drone capabilities. I don't know if they have balloon capabilities. But these things aren't that hard to do. This is low tech technology. And it brings up our vulnerabilities really,

KING: You say it brings up the vulnerabilities to antiquated detection systems. So I'm going to use simplistic term radar. It's much beyond that. Now, it should be well beyond that, now. But you have and use the Atari reference and one of your notes with the step. Is the equipment actually that antiquated? And then if so then why are we able to pick up now all of a sudden pick up these objects?

SANNER: So let me start by saying that, while this defense of the Continental United States has been neglected, for decades, in terms of this kind of aerial threat, cruise missile threat. We've invested in ballistic missile defense, but not in this.

And so that might be a secret to all of us. But it's not to the U.S. military and the Biden Administration actually put money into the budget this year to start looking at this. But we have a big gap. We have a gap geographically, we're really only focused toward the anything coming over the North Pole.

But if something comes in south of Alaska, we might not see it. And then we have this technology gap, in terms of most of our radars are from the 1980s. And so that's when the filtering is because our processors literally the ones that are attached to the radars don't have the capability to look through that much material. And so we had to filter it to identify threats that look like things we recognize as threats.

KING: A couple other quick points before we run out of time. Number one, the Chinese today, obviously we shot down their spy below, they're going to pull it up from the bottom of the ocean, they're going to analyze that data. The Chinese say the United States does this all the time too and the Biden Administration forcibly?

Sometimes you use vague language for something no, simply It has not happened. The United States has not sent balloons over Mainland China in your experience are that true?

SANNER: I think that is true. I think we're in a liar-liar-pants-on- fire moment here. You know I think that the Chinese are going to make up things in order to cover their own tracks.


SANNER: But that said, we do spy and this is another form of spying. So we have to be very careful with how outraged we get in terms of what we do. But I do not believe that we send balloons of this nature over Chinese territory.

KING: And lastly, what conversations are going on governments to governments now, whether it's friend or foe, to the idea that if you don't want to every several days to be firing a missile at something in the sky, are conversations going on about anything, any of this that is state sponsored must stop. How can you do that?

SANNER: Yes, these are very key conversations. They're happening with Japan and other allies as we speak.

KING: You say Japan, what about China? What about Iran? What about Russia? Do you have those conversations? Or are they going to listen anyway?

SANNER: We haven't yet because we didn't know about this?

KING: We didn't know about this, and we'll see where it goes. Bertrand appreciate your insights. Up next, why the silence? President Biden three times this weekend did issue those shoot down orders, but he did not detail why or what his administration knows and doesn't know about those mysterious objects in the sky.



KING: The President still has not addressed three identified objects shot down over the country this week and one of them over Canada. CNN now learning, there are new concerns from those close to the President that perhaps he should be doing more to communicate with the American people about this issue. Right now the President has no public events on his schedule today. Let's go straight to the White House CNN's White House Correspondent MJ Lee. MJ one of the answers you get when you say why are we here with the Presidents they say? Well, there's not a lot to say just yet. But how do they wrestle with this?

MJ LEE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you know, John, we have been getting some periodic updates from Pentagon officials and NSC officials about each of the three recently down to objects.

But what we've not gotten so far is an address from the President himself about what exactly the American people should be making of these headlines. And whether there's real cause for concern. And some of the lawmakers that we have been speaking to, including some Democrats have said that it is probably time for that to change.

One member I spoke to who sits on House Foreign Affairs so that they heard nothing from the administration over the weekend, and that President Biden should probably address the public even if he doesn't have much to share by way of information right now.

They said ambiguity is fuel for Conspiracy theorists. And I hope information is shared expeditiously something truthful is more important than something reassuring trusting government requires communication from government.

But the issue, John right now is that U.S. officials are still trying to get a better handle on what exactly these objects are, and whether there is real reason for concern. And what we've been told by sources is that there is sort of a risk assessment here, right?

That if you're putting the President out there in front of the cameras to address the public, but he doesn't yet has a full complete picture of what exactly is going on? What is sort of the upside to that? So that is sort of what the White House is weighing right now in terms of what the President can or can't say.

But there is certainly growing urgency and sort of the growing calls that we are hearing for the President to communicate a little bit more. And this is also why we're going to have - we're going to continue seeing so much more focus on the recovery efforts so that U.S. officials can really get a better handle on what exactly it is the situation that we are talking about here.

KING: MJ Lee live for us at White House appreciate it. Let's bring in the conversation in the room with me to share their reporting and their insights. Laura Barron Lopez from PBS NewsHour, Tamara Keith of NPR, and CNN's Natasha Bertrand is back with us at well.

So Tamara there it's a tough one, right? Because you don't know a lot but you have Republicans saying the President is weak, he's prepared to run for reelection. And you have for the first time in my lifetime.

I remember I'm old enough to remember when we said the Cold War drills where you went to the bomb shelters or you went under your desk. You had those drills. U.S. fighter jets above the United States and above Canadian territory shooting at things in silence from the President?

TAMARA KEITH, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NPR: Right. And clearly something has changed. We went through years without anything needing to be shot out of the sky, and all of a sudden things are being shot out of the sky.

The White House is bringing John Kirby from the NSC to the briefing today, along with Karine Jean-Pierre, that's not the President of the United States. But as MJ reported, they still don't know a lot. And I think that there is a risk for the President of the United States to come out and say, oh, everything's fine.

And then to find out that, oh, everything maybe isn't fine. And I think there's also a very serious question about whether there have been things out there all along. And, the U.S. is only just now seeing them and what changed? There's a real policy question that that government officials are going to have to answer.

KING: And so one of the risks. Look, they don't know the Natasha's been working the story. They don't know, to a degree. But what happens is lawmakers want to know. Members of Congress want to know, especially if you're going to go on the Sunday show if you're Chuck Schumer, you're the Senate Majority Leader, you talk to the National Security Adviser, and then you say this.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-CA): You can be sure that if any, any American interests or people are at risk, they'll take appropriate action. Until they get that comprehensive analysis. However, we have to look at each balloon, individual are these believe what they believe they were? Yes, but much smaller.


KING: Is that - when Senator Schumer said that that's the best information he had, but do we really know?

BERTRAND: We don't know. And actually the Pentagon said even last night to reporters, they cannot rule out that this is extraterrestrial. I mean, that is the level that we're at right now where they're saying they can't rule out aliens.

Now a Defense Department official did come out afterwards on background and tell reporters look there is no evidence that these are actually aliens.


BERTRAND: but the level that we are operating at right now is that these are the what is so little so little is known about these objects that they can't even tell us are they for spying? Are they weather balloons?

What are we seeing right now that has cost the kind of panic you know caused the administration to want to shoot them down because that is the what is so little, so little is known about these objects that they can't even tell us. Are they for spying? Are they weather balloons or what? What are we seeing right now that has caused the kind of panic that has, you know, caused the administration to want to shoot them down?

Because these objects have been out there in the past I mean, there have been reports to Congress about these unidentified flying objects in the past, they had been briefed on these things. So what now has caused this urgency? And I think, you know, you can't ignore the political uproar that happened last week from the Chinese spy balloon, where Republicans were criticizing, of course, the Biden Administration for not acting fast enough to shoot it down.

KING: Right. And so you have even loyal Democrats. This is Jim Hines member of the Intelligence Committee, to your point, says, we've been studying this for several years. We've been studying this issue for years, but he says you're gonna shoot down three of them, the President is going to explain it.


REP. JIM HIMES (D-CT): I have real concerns about why the administration is not being more forthcoming with everything that it knows. My guess is that there's just not a lot of information out there yet to share. In the absence of information, people's anxiety leads them into potentially destructive areas.


LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I was talking to a Senate Democrat this more this morning, who said that they don't think that the President necessarily has to come out, but they want to see more White House officials out on the airwaves explaining what they know to date?

Whether it's John Kirby from NSC or someone else? And the DOD, a Defense Department official did say yesterday, like, in part why we're seeing more of these is because there's been more screening. And that's what a number of Democrats I've talked to think is happening, which is that the U.S. is being more vigilant about airspace that they are screening more for these types of objects. And then because they're finding them deciding to shoot them down.

KING: So it's a key point. Look, it's a complicated policy question. Welcome to the technological age we live in, and the spy. But this is Mike Turner, now the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee now, who says if you see them, shoots them down.


REP. MIKE TURNER (R-OH): We prefer them to be trigger happy than to be permissive. But we're going to have to see whether or not this is just the administration trying to change headlines. There needs to be more engagement between the administration and Congress. Probably they're a little hesitant after the Chinese balloon fiasco, where they let it go across the country to great criticism. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: This is the moment you read, where you get a little bit of policy, a little bit of let's all defend America, and then quickly into the politics,

KEITH: Right and he seem to want both things. He wants them to be trigger happy now they have shot down three objects over the weekend. And the question is, well, what changed?

KING: And until, until they can pull the Chinese spy balloon, a lot of it's still at the bottom of the ocean. So these other ones shot down in places, remote areas hard to get out to. So it could be days and weeks and more before we get any actual solid information as to what they were where they came from. We know the Chinese one was, you know, we know that one from China. But before we know exactly what they were capable of all that could be a longtime?

BERTRAND: Exactly. They have to examine all this wreckage. And remember, a lot of this debris is in pretty remote areas. That's hard to get to. So that's part of the problem.

KING: Part of the problem. We'll see what happens today at the White House briefing and then beyond. Up next for us, the House Leader Kevin McCarthy scrambling to raise the debt ceiling with spending cuts; he's leading on his conference in what he calls the five families within it to make that happen. Democrats say in the end, he won't have the votes.



KING: May call this The Godfather meets Washington instead of five warring mob families. It's a group of Republican lawmakers from across their caucus's political spectrum, trying to avoid a catastrophic debt default.

CNN reports the talks between the so called five families and the House Republican leadership is in their early stages. The goal some sort of consensus on the debt limit. What the lawmakers and the leadership hope is that they can force Democrats to back off their calls to raise the debt ceiling with no spending cuts.

CNN's Eva McKend and Melanie Zanona join our conversation. So Kevin McCarthy, not afraid of The Godfather I guess calls the five disparate groups within the Republican family, the five families. And the idea is this is hard.

If you want to propose spending cuts in conjunction with the debt limit that means you got to put them on paper. So you're trying to get the most conservative members to agree with the more moderate members.

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: So the strategy here for Kevin McCarthy is really twofold. He wants to first show that Republicans can get 218 votes for any spending plan, because one of the chief criticisms of Republicans has been they can't negotiate amongst themselves.

They can barely elect Kevin McCarthy Speaker, let alone be negotiating with the White House here so they're trying to strengthen their negotiating hand by showing, hey, we do have a plan, we can come to agreement, and we can do this.

And the second part of the strategy for Kevin McCarthy is he wants to have an inclusive process with these so called five families, a godfather reference there that I will say not all Republicans love that reference. But McCarthy wants to show that it's not just going to be leadership driven.

And that's because he knows that this is going to be a make or break moment for his speakership. There is the power to oust him at any given moment. So he's trying to sort of thread the needle here amongst the various wings of his party, but it's going to be a lot easier said than done. And then if and when they come to that agreement, they still have to negotiate with the Democrats.

KING: And so let's just - let's just go you see them up on the screen there. Garret Graves is a top McCarthy ally calls him the leadership family. He's representing the leadership there.