The Biden administration‘s spy chief raised expectations on Friday for a future in which “high-altitude vehicles” will become commonplace.
Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines spoke briefly on the suspected Chinese spy balloon controversy during an appearance at the Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs. Haines, who oversees the U.S. intelligence community, remarked on how “crazy” the situation has become in the past couple weeks.
“It’s so crazy. It’s really like an episode of ‘Veep,’ you know, on some level,” she quipped, referring to the HBO political satire show that starred Julia Louis-Dreyfus.
The discussion happened nearly two weeks after the U.S. shot down what it assesses to be a Chinese surveillance balloon off the coast of South Carolina. Beijing claims the balloon was essentially a civilian weather balloon mainly blown off course, and accused the U.S. of overreacting in shooting it down, but only after the vessel flew across a wide stretch of the United States.
Haines talked about how countries respond when getting caught in the act of spying.
“When a country is caught spying in a clear and obvious way, right? Like another country responds to it, and I think that’s appropriate,” she said. “I think that it’s perfectly reasonable to have a clear and forceful reaction to a Chinese high altitude balloon — you know — flying over the United States and surveilling us.”
Haines then offered a glimpse of the challenges of a future of flying cars, similar to what one might see in an episode of “The Jetsons.”
“I think there is a question of — as technology improves as we start to see more high-altitude vehicles, in effect, that we’re going to see more of this,” Haines said. “And we’re going to have to understand that and manage it.”
On Thursday, President Joe Biden delivered his first public remarks about the Chinese balloon, as well as the three unidentified flying objects the U.S. military shot down over North America in the days that followed. He said the U.S. intelligence community’s current assessment was that the three objects “were most likely balloons tied to private companies, recreation, or research institutions studying weather or conducting other scientific research.”
After noting how the United States is “enhancing our radar to pick up more slow-moving objects above our country and around the world,” Biden also said he has tasked his team to develop “sharper rules” for how the United States will deal with “unidentified objects moving forward, distinguishing — distinguishing between those that are likely to pose safety and security risks that necessitate action and those that do not.”
Haines said she believes Biden’s approach, which includes ensuring that partners are kept in the loop, is “a pretty classic and appropriate way to handle” the situation.