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Sen. Susan Collins talks about the unidentified objects over U.S. and Canada

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Unidentified objects over the United States and Canada continue to raise questions and concerns, including with members of the Senate. Senators were briefed today on the situation. And joining us now is Senate Intelligence Committee member, Republican senator from Maine, Susan Collins. Welcome back to the program.

SUSAN COLLINS: Thanks so much. Glad to join you.

SUMMERS: So you and other senators were briefed by Biden administration officials today about the latest developments around this series of objects. What can you tell us about them?

COLLINS: Well, we still don't know much about the second, third and fourth objects, all of which have been shot down. One basic question for me remains why did the administration wait for eight days to shoot down a known object that was clearly a very large Chinese surveillance balloon, and yet acted very quickly to take down three unidentified objects that we still don't know the origin of, nor the purpose?

SUMMERS: It sounds to me like you're saying the administration did not provide any additional information about what these three other objects that were shut down were. That's still unknown?

COLLINS: That's correct. Obviously, this was a classified briefing, so I cannot go into details. But I did not find it very informative.

SUMMERS: In that briefing, did you get a sense at all as to whether this spate of objects is indeed new or if there's perhaps just a new focus on them?

COLLINS: There is a new program that was created to try to track the reports by military and other pilots of unidentified aerial phenomena. And there appears to be many that have been reported and tracked over the years. I will note that it does depend on how our radars are adjusted and calibrated whether or not some of these objects are picked up. So we're not really sure what is out there. But one thing we are sure of and that is that the first object, the very large balloon with the payload, was a surveillance balloon that lingered over sensitive military assets and was launched by China.

SUMMERS: Based on that briefing and to your knowledge, do you believe that the military currently has the appropriate capabilities to track objects like that balloon that was shot down and like these three additional objects that were also shot down?

COLLINS: These incidents, in my judgment, have revealed that there are gaps in our domain awareness and also in the focus that we have placed on identifying these aerial objects. And one request that I expect will be in the budget is for over-the-horizon radar systems that would enhance the military's capabilities in this regard. This is something that I'm very sympathetic to. And as the ranking member of the Defense Appropriations Committee, I expect to have many more conversations with military leaders.

SUMMERS: That raises, then, a question about transparency. Do you believe the Biden administration has been sufficiently transparent with yourself and other members of Congress? And furthermore, do you feel the administration has been sufficiently transparent with the American public?

COLLINS: I do not believe that the administration has been sufficiently transparent. Now, to be fair to the administration, they are still gathering information. And it may be - and I've encouraged them to be - more forthcoming once they have recovered and analyzed the debris. But it seems to me that we, members of Congress, should not first have learned about the Chinese surveillance balloon as the result of some of Senator Tester's and Senator Daine's constituents in Montana spotting it in the sky and taking pictures of it. There should have been much better coordination and communication between the administration and members of Congress, particularly in those states over which that Chinese spy balloon flew.

SUMMERS: Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine, thank you so much.

COLLINS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Kai McNamee
Justine Kenin
Justine Kenin is an editor on All Things Considered. She joined NPR in 1999 as an intern. Nothing makes her happier than getting a book in the right reader's hands – most especially her own.
Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.