Interesting Links: June 2, 2015

Here are links to two interesting news articles that I came across today. They are both about the virtually bottomless appetite for government sanctioned “legal surveillance” in the USA. See kids.. there is really not that much of a difference between totalitarian nation states and their supposedly democratic counterparts.

Link 1: FBI behind mysterious surveillance aircraft over US cities

Scores of low-flying planes circling American cities are part of a civilian air force operated by the FBI and obscured behind fictitious companies, The Associated Press has learned. The AP traced at least 50 aircraft back to the FBI, and identified more than 100 flights in 11 states over a 30-day period since late April, orbiting both major cities and rural areas. At least 115 planes, including 90 Cessna aircraft, were mentioned in a federal budget document from 2009. For decades, the planes have provided support to FBI surveillance operations on the ground. But now the aircraft are equipped with high-tech cameras, and in rare circumstances, technology capable of tracking thousands of cellphones, raising questions about how these surveillance flights affect Americans’ privacy.

The FBI says the planes are not equipped or used for bulk collection activities or mass surveillance. The surveillance equipment is used for ongoing investigations, the FBI says, generally without a judge’s approval. The FBI confirmed for the first time the wide-scale use of the aircraft, which the AP traced to at least 13 fake companies, such as FVX Research, KQM Aviation, NBR Aviation and PXW Services. “The FBI’s aviation program is not secret,” spokesman Christopher Allen said in a statement. “Specific aircraft and their capabilities are protected for operational security purposes.” The front companies are used to protect the safety of the pilots, the agency said. That setup also shields the identity of the aircraft so that suspects on the ground don’t know they’re being followed.

The FBI is not the only federal law enforcement agency to take such measures. The Drug Enforcement Administration has its own planes, also registered to fake companies, according to a 2011 Justice Department inspector general report. At the time, the DEA had 92 aircraft in its fleet. And since 2007, the U.S. Marshals Service has operated an aerial surveillance program with its own fleet equipped with technology that can capture data from thousands of cellphones, the Wall Street Journal reported last year. In the FBI’s case, one of its fake companies shares a post office box with the Justice Department, creating a link between the companies and the FBI through publicly available Federal Aviation Administration records

Link 2: This Shadow Government Agency Is Scarier Than the NSA

If you have a telephone number that has ever been called by an inmate in a federal prison, registered a change of address with the Postal Service, rented a car from Avis, used a corporate or Sears credit card, applied for nonprofit status with the IRS, or obtained non-driver’s legal identification from a private company, they have you on file. They are not who you think they are. They are not the NSA or the CIA. They are the National Security Analysis Center (NSAC), an obscure element of the Justice Department that has grown from its creation in 2008 into a sprawling 400-person, $150 million-a-year multi-agency organization employing almost 300 analysts, the majority of whom are corporate contractors.

NSAC formally expanded the focus of the Task Force beyond just foreign terrorists. The internal data mart expanded in 2008 to support proactive work to identify potential counterintelligence and nuclear-proliferation threats via advanced analysis of financial, communication, and travel records. Both the ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation have conducted investigations and obtained documents on FTTTF and the FBI’s data-collection efforts. That work, and additional documents obtained by Phase Zero, paint a picture of a massive, overlooked domestic intelligence operation with a mission that goes far beyond catching foreign terrorists.

What do you think? Comments?

  1. June 2, 2015 at 6:44 pm

    Why am I not surprised ?

  2. Yusef
    June 3, 2015 at 1:10 pm

    I’m curious if anyone has thoughts on the nature of the disclosure, its timing, and the fact it is being attributed to the Associated Press. I have to check on it, but off the top of my head I do not remember any other time the AP broke a lead of this kind. I can’t help being cynical. We are probably being managed and manipulated, not informed so we can seek reform and curtailment of surveillance. This story ran front page in my small town, conservative, pro-military, pro-police local newspaper which was also unusual and maybe even unique. Glad you picked up on it, though.

    I remember reading the basic story in some group on reddit a couple of years ago. It just became very obvious after the recent protests against cops in New York and Baltimore.

  3. Yusef
    June 4, 2015 at 12:25 pm

    That’s interesting you associate this with the protests against cops in New York and Baltimore.

    The AP has traditionally been in the business of disseminating information from other news agencies and organizations, but I did find something about AP’s decision to expand content development in 2014:

    If it became obvious in Baltimore and NYC it still bothers me it wasn’t first taken up by Baltimore and NYC reporters.

    Using fixed wing aircraft flying conspicuously low to collect data doesn’t seem state of the art. It seems silly. There have to be other, better ways. Especially to monitor transmissions there really is no need. And FBI would have access to satellites and surveillance cameras strategically located all over the place in metropolitan areas of the USA. (And in fact, even my very small, remote town is surveilled by the local police using cameras located on telephone poles, stop lights, and other places in a truly remarkable and frighteningly comprehensive manner.)


  4. P Ray
    October 1, 2015 at 5:55 am

    Democracies are so much better at lying to people than totalitarian states …
    because people desperately want to believe democracies are better, and produce higher-quality human beings.

    In short, people are stupid. But at least they have money which can be taken in exchange for services …

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