FBI spy planes flew over police protests with surveillance cameras

The FBI flew surveillance flights over Baltimore during the unrest that followed the death of Freddie Gray and over Ferguson, Missouri following the death of Michael Brown, using advanced surveillance techniques including infrared cameras, documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union have revealed.

The internal documents from the FBI and the Federal Aviation Authority show that one Cessna aircraft circling over the Baltimore protests – which was registered to an FBI shell company named “NG Research” – carried an infrared camera mount as well as an FLIR Talon multi-sensor camera system, which includes thermal imaging technology and laser illumination.

Nate Wessler, a staff attorney at the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy and Technology project, told the Guardian that while the supreme court had upheld the use by agencies of surveillance planes, it had not considered their use in light of the high level of sophistication of the equipment now on board.

“That’s what really raises part of the concern here,” he said. “We know at least one of these planes was equipped with infrared cameras – we don’t know how powerful [they are], but if it is used to gain info about the interior of homes, then a warrant is clearly required under supreme court precedent.”…

In June, the Associated Press reported that the FBI maintained a fleet of at least 50 aircraft flying such surveillance missions over cities across the US. At the time, the FBI claimed the planes were not equipped for mass surveillance.

However, the documents obtained by the ACLU, which were obtained following requests under the Freedom of Information Act, show the agency is holding on to all surveillance tapes collected during the unrest in Baltimore and Ferguson.

Parts of the documents which would identify more of the electronic surveillance equipment used are redacted, meaning that the full extent of the capabilities of the aircraft is still not fully known.

Political hacks in Congress from both parties will roll out the usual lies about national security to excuse their contempt for constitutional rights. I’ve confronted FBI and CIA operations in the United States for over 55 years of activism in civil rights, union organizing, peace movements. These scumbags operate with virtual impunity. Even an unsanctioned operation which risks jail time for violations of law rarely end up with anything more than fines and a slap on the wrist.

Just in case you think failing banks on Wall Street invented the policy. 🙂

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