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Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III Addresses Traveling Press Upon Arrival in Brussels, Belgium

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LLOYD J. AUSTIN III: ... I wanted to take a minute to give you the latest of where we stand and what we know and then I'll take a couple of questions before we hop in the car. 
The safety and the security of the American people is the President and the department's number one priority, and I want to reassure Americans that these objects do not present a military threat to anyone on the ground. They do, however, present a risk to civil aviation and potentially an intelligence collection threat, and we'll get to the bottom of it. 
Right now, our priority is on -- is debris recovery so that we can get a better sense of what these objects are. We're working closely with the rest of the federal government, including the FAA, the FBI, NASA, and others, to work through what we might be seeing. 
We, of course, know that a range of entities, including countries, companies, research organizations, operate in these altitudes -- or at these altitudes for purposes that are not nefarious, including legitimate research. 
That said, because we've not been able to definitively assess what these recent objects are, we've acted out at -- of an abundance of caution to protect the -- our security and interests. That's why we have teams working hard to track down the debris from over the weekend. 
We have extensive efforts in South Carolina, Alaska, and Lake Huron, and we're supporting our Canadian partners in their efforts there. Each of these recoveries are unique and each pose their own challenges, as you know. 
In South Carolina, crews have collected a fair amount of debris from the site, and weather permitting, continue to search. In Alaska, the object landed on sea ice, and because of the wind chills and other weather impacts in the area, safety concerns are particularly -- are partially dictating recovery timelines.  
In Yukon territory, Canada is leading recovery operations in the very remote area where the debris landed. And the FBI continues to liaison with Canadian officials, and U.S. Northern Command is ready to offer additional support as requested. In Lake Huron, U.S. Northern Command and the U.S. Coast Guard and the FBI are beginning operations to locate debris, in close partnership with the Canadians. Because the recovery efforts are unique, the timelines will be unique as well. 
I want to be clear -- the three objects taken down this weekend are very different from what we were talking about last week. We knew exactly what that was, a PRC surveillance balloon. As we have said, we do not assess that the recent objects pose any direct threat to the people on the ground and we will continue to focus on confirming their nature and purpose. 
So I'll stop there and take a couple of questions. 
Q: Sir, do you think that (inaudible)? 
Q: Mr. Secretary, have you been able to recover any part of the most recent three objects? And why continue to call them objects? Are these not balloons? 
SEC. AUSTIN: Well, we're going to confirm what they are once we have collected the debris, but to answer your question, we've not recovered any debris from the three most recent shoot downs. 
Q: (Inaudible) sir -- sir, as far as policy is concerned, do you -- is it -- is it American policy to now shoot down these unidentified objects on sight? And has there been a delegation of authority from President Biden to yourself on making decisions on when to take down these -- these objects? 
SEC. AUSTIN: Thanks. Our policy hasn't changed. We will evaluate each and every event on its own merits and we'll make decisions based upon the recommendations of the NORTHCOM/NORAD Commander, the -- the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and they'll make recommendations to me and I'll evaluate to make recommendations to the President. 
Again, these three events presented a -- each of them presented a risk to safety of -- of flight. And we don't know if they were actually collecting intelligence, but because of the route that they took, out of an abundance of caution, we want to make sure that we have the ability to examine what these things are and potentially what they were doing. 
So -- so with that, I'll stop and we'll go ahead ...