The FBI’s Fleet of Surveillance Aircraft

 In Domestic, opinion, Politics

An Independent journalist from Minnesota who calls himself Sam Renegade, broke a story on May 26 about a fleet of surveillance aircraft being used by the FBI. The Federal agency claims they are only used to spy on those who are under federal investigation (we believe that, right?). The aircraft are all listed under fictitious companies – and the surveillance is generally conducted without the approval of a US Court.

surveillance aircraft

An FBI aircraft equipped with a “Wescam stabilized surveillance sensor” – photo from arstechnica.com

A 4th Amendment snarl

CNS news wrote:

The planes’ surveillance equipment is generally used without a judge’s approval, and the FBI said the flights are used for specific, ongoing investigations. The FBI said it uses front companies to protect the safety of the pilots and aircraft. It also shields the identity of the aircraft so that suspects on the ground don’t know they’re being watched by the FBI.

The Associate Press published their version of the story on June 2. At least 13 fake companies were found to be fronts for the U.S. Government. Names like FVX Research or KQM Aviation,  do not exist as real companies. And their fleet of aircraft is reportedly around 100 planes, maybe more.

With current technology capabilities such as ARGUS, the specter of widespread surveillance in violation the 4th Amendment is probable.  (ARGUS monitoring software: high flying drones equipped with special HD video cameras capable of taking video of a 15 square mile area).

Within a 30 day period, according to reports, the FBI’s fleet of aircraft flew over 30 cities in 11 states in a pattern that suggests surveillance. And the FBI has gone to great lengths to protect what they are doing by not referring to it in their court documents. They deny that this aircraft program is “secret.”

“The FBI’s aviation program is not secret. Specific aircraft and their capabilities are protected for operational security purposes….The FBI’s planes are not equipped, designed or used for bulk collection activities or mass surveillance.”  FBI spokesman Christopher Allen

…Except for all those videos that capture the activity of persons on the ground, or the technology “StingRay” that can identify cell phone users by mimicking a cell tower. The StingRay program is reportedly using court orders now, but the aircraft surveillance is not. The FBI claims that they are using court orders for unmanned drones, but not for the piloted aircraft. Small comfort.

The FBI used the planes in Baltimore during the riots, and we understand that could obviously be a good thing. All in all, technology can be used for good or bad, but the lawless nature of our current government puts our privacy into question on a daily basis.

The NSA 215 spying program may have lapsed  temporarily, but that doesn’t mean the FBI can’t invade your privacy. Whether it’s drones with video cameras or planes, the 4th Amendment is under attack.

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