Report: FBI flying mysterious surveillance planes over Seattle, other US cities

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File photo of a Cessna Airplane. From Wikimedia.

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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15 comments

  • Patty Braithwaite

    If they are trying to protect us, why are we concerned? This area needs a lot of protection. If they are locating lawbreakers, and solving crimes, fine. If not, who is paying for all that wasted fuel?

  • RYAN S

    GOOD HOPE THEY FLY EVERY DAY THEY HAVE EVERY RIGHT TO LOOK ANYWHERE AND EVERY WHERE TO FIND CRIMINALS I GET SO TIRED OF TRASH CRIMINALS WEINNING BUT WERE WERE SO CAREFUL HOW DID THEY CATCH US

  • eric

    You people are so trusting of government activities. This is not okay or right. A famous president once said ” if you trade freedom for security you do not deserve freedom”

  • Mat

    I agree with Eric. Why cant they be more transparent about their activities. Seems to me that they would want all criminals to know they are flying around. Might be a good deterrent? Why is the FBI spying on us?? Always Question Authority.

  • Rokkoon

    No surprise here, you sold your souls for the cock and bull!

    Anybody Ok with this because “I’m not doing anything illegal”, doesn’t deserve to live in a free society an damn sure doesn’t deserve to celebrate the 4th of July!

  • d_2

    Much ado about nothing. If you or the subjects being surveilled are in public, there is no expectation of privacy. People are observed closely daily by other less dramatic means. Almost each and every one of us is captured on video daily. Whether at the street light, entering a building or any other number of options. Get a grip folks; this is not a warrant-less search.

    • Hello Murica

      What I do in my yard, and what I talk about on my cellphone is nobody’s business. Your flagrant dismissal of our government violating our 4th amendment rights is sickening. The pathetic thing is many people think the way you do.

  • Ed VanDyke

    Next up: Legislator outcry to “save the government hundreds of millions of dollars”, by replacing this “air force” with one consisting of drones.. As long as they pitch it as [fixing Obama’s wasteful spending] it will fly through 2 branches of government, and be a plank in the platform of TorRies ’16 campaigns… ;)

    • eric

      We do not have a Democrat, Republican problem. We have a government problem. Those who are in power are not doing us good. Just look at the Patriot act, the right of protest, freedom of speech and now the right to bear arms. We the people need to stand together and not separate ourselves from each other.