The suspected Chinese spy balloon hovering over American airspace could have a direct purpose of monitoring cellphone traffic in the United States, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel told CNN on Friday.
While appearing on the network, retired Col. Cedric Leighton explained that China "could be scooping up signals intelligence" with the spy balloon that was last seen over Montana, at an altitude of approximately 60,000 feet.
"In other words, they're looking at our cellphone traffic, our radio traffic," said Leighton.
On Thursday night, word first broke of the spy balloon occupying American airspace. But according to The Associated Press, the same balloon had been flying over the country for at least two days prior.
The Biden administration and Pentagon opted not to shoot down the balloon — which is reportedly the size of three large buses — out of safety precautions for the citizens on the ground.
Not everyone shared that opinion, though, including former President Donald Trump, who succinctly wrote on his Truth Social app Friday: "SHOOT DOWN THE BALLOON!"
China's foreign ministry office tried to defuse the situation by claiming the balloon was a civilian research "airship," primarily used for gathering weather data.
"The Chinese side regrets the unintended entry of the airship into U.S. airspace due to force majeure," the ministry said in a statement, while referring to an event beyond the control of the involved parties.
Also, China's ministry office said it would continue to communicate with U.S. officials, as a means of properly handling "this unexpected situation."
However, that statement runs contrary to Col. Leighton's thoughts on the balloon's intended purpose.
The same holds true for the Pentagon.
According to Reuters, the unidentified aircraft's maneuverability "directly challenges" China's assertion that the balloon was a civilian airship which had inadvertently strayed into U.S. territory.
"The fact is we know that it's a surveillance balloon. And I'm not going to be able to be more specific than that," Air Force Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder told reporters at the Pentagon.
"We do know that the balloon has violated U.S. airspace and international law, which is unacceptable. And so we've conveyed this directly to the People's Republic of China at multiple levels."
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