Report: FBI flying mysterious surveillance planes over Seattle, other US cities
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Associated Press has learned the FBI is operating a small air force with scores of low-flying planes across the country carrying video or, at times, cellphone surveillance technology.
The surveillance equipment is generally used without a judge’s approval, and the FBI says the flights are for ongoing investigations. The planes can also capture video of unrelated criminal activity on the ground as evidence for prosecutions.
In a recent 30-day period, the AP found the government flew above more than 30 cities in 11 states across the country. According to the AP, more than 100 flights over at least 11 cities — including Seattle — were flown in the past few weeks. Other cities included parts of Houston, Phoenix, Chicago, Boston, Minneapolis and Los Angeles.
The planes are all hidden behind fictitious companies that are fronts for the government. Included on most aircraft registrations is a mysterious name, Robert Lindley. He is listed as chief executive and has at least three distinct signatures among the companies.
The FBI asked the AP not to disclose the names of the fake companies it uncovered, saying that would saddle taxpayers with the expense of creating new cover companies to shield the government’s involvement, and could endanger the planes and integrity of the surveillance missions.
The program raises questions about whether policies should be updated to better protect civil liberties from government spying, the AP reports.
The FBI said the surveillance flights comply with agency rules that limit the types of equipment the agency can use, as well as the justifications and duration of the surveillance.
“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.”
Most flight patterns occurred in counter-clockwise orbits up to several miles wide and roughly one mile above the ground at slow speeds.
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