FOIA Confirms Lawless Nature of FBI Sky Spies

FOIA Confirms Lawless Nature of FBI Sky Spies

“Eyes in the Sky” by Bill McMullen

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) released documents received in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit that confirm the use of cell-site simulators in surveillance aircraft and the shocking disregard for oversight or regulatory policy what-so-ever. The federal government is flying spy-planes over US soil as the EFF put it, “without any policies or legal guidance.” North Star Post has been reporting on these activities since our founding following the independent disclosure of FBI operated domestic aerial surveillance on May 26th, 2015.

The EFF reports: the FBI’s “first successful airborne geolocation mission involving cellular technology” apparently occurred sometime in 2009, even as late as April 2014 lawyers from the FBI’s Office of General Counsel were discussing the need to develop a “coordinated policy” and “determine any legal concerns.”

NSP most prominently reported on the FBI evasion of established policy in regards to warrants for the use of cell-site simulator deployment in October of last year.

Aircraft have been identified as part of the FBI, DEA, DHS and other fleets, with many aircraft flying on a daily basis. The fleet is predominantly single-engine Cessna aircraft, with most flying 4-5 hours in looped patterns and circles with a radius of 2-2.5 miles. The 2+ mile figure is most likely the range of the DRT box although this has yet to be substantiated by government documents.

The secretive nature of the program (similar to other cover-ups of cell-site simulator use), flight patterns, visible modifications to the aircraft, and nighttime flights were only a few factors that lead North Star Post to estimate that cell-site simulators were being used on these aircraft. The original article, and subsequent coverage by the AP resulted in the Senate Judiciary Committee requesting information in an open letter. An email released by the EFF indicates that the US Marshals Service regularly uses cell-site simulators in flight. Other correspondence indicates that the Marshals use equipment on loan from the FBI.

NSP has been publishing the tail-numbers of the federal spy-plane fleets including those operated by the FBI, and DEA, allowing the public to track them via websites like FlightRadar24.

National Guard domestic aerial surveillance is unmentioned by these documents but FOIAs are currently pending with the FAA that will reveal more information. The aircraft used by the Guard are already much more capable than the smaller aircraft employed by the other federal fleets.

In addition to this, North Star Post is also publishing a series of articles explaining in detail the power of aerial surveillance programs. Get caught up on Part I as the rest will be published soon!