For Eight Months A Private Company Flew Secret Surveillance Missions Over Baltimore

surveillance-state

By Derrick Broze

Baltimore police recently held a press conference announcing new details regarding secret surveillance flights taking place over the city for eight months.

Baltimore Police have released new details on a controversial partnership between law enforcement and a private company that operates a fleet of surveillance planes. At a press conference last Friday Baltimore Police released flight logs for the plane owned and operated by Persistent Surveillance Systems.

The logs show the plane flying about 314 hours over a period of 8 months beginning in January 2016. The plane flew over the city close to 100 times and took more than a million pictures. During the months of January, February, June, July, and August the plane flew between one and five hours. The flights reportedly ended on August 7. Bloomberg Businessweek was the first organization to report on the flights, but specific details were not released until the press conference.

Over the 8-month period Persistent Surveillance Systems was able to create a visual chronological record of the city of Baltimore. PSS began working with the BPD in January under an agreement to possibly lease out the surveillance plane. The arrangement was not disclosed to Baltimore’s mayor, city council, elected officials, or the public. Popular Mechanics reports that Baltimore police stated they will use the plane again as a “terrorism prevention tool”during the Baltimore Marathon on Oct. 15 and “Fleet Week” next week.

The program is opposed by Baltimore residents, activists and groups like the American Civil Liberties Union who worry about the loss of privacy. While activists look for local and state legislation to protect them, Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis says the program is an opportunity for law enforcement to more effectively track down criminals.

“We have a real opportunity to police smarter,” Davis said. “The old days of looking at a spike in violence, and marching orders to stop everyone that moves in hoping of identifying a suspect or a witness — we have to move away from that type of policing.”

Ron McNutt, president of Persistent Surveillance Systems, told The Baltimore Sun he is considering selling aerial footage of the city to auto insurance companies to track accidents and claims. McNutt also flies up and down the East Coast to survey land before and after hurricanes. “I have an internal incentive to hold to my privacy policy,” McNutt told the Sun.

Still, the fear that a corporate entity may begin initiating surveillance measures in order to monetize the data and sell it to governments, or insurance companies is a legitimate one. How exactly this data will be protected or stored will likely depend on how much the public pushes back.  As far as Baltimore is concerned, the BPD has a history of violence, racism, and aggressive surveillance. In November 2015 Anti Media reported on internal documents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation reveal that surveillance planes the agency flew over Baltimore and Ferguson during highly-publicized protests also operated thermal imaging equipment. It was also revealed that Baltimore Police used “Stingray” cell phone surveillance technology more than 4,300 times.

Unfortunately, the issue of mass surveillance is a national problem. More specifically, the issue of surveillance planes flying over major cities and towns is increasingly becoming a major concern. As recently as March of this year, the Electronic Frontier Foundation received new records related to the U.S. Marshals aerial surveillance program. The EFF filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Department of Justice shortly after The Wall Street Journal revealed a cell-phone monitoring program operated by the U.S. Marshals Service. The program involved the Marshals using Cessna planes mounted with cell site simulators, also known as  “Stingrays” or “dirtboxes.”

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The documents obtained by the EFF come from the U.S. Marshals, FBI, CIA, and the DOJ’s Criminal Division. Most of the information released is heavily redacted but there are some new details on how these programs are being operated. The EFF writes:

The FBI produced the majority of the records—hundreds of pages of heavily redacted material. The documents are mostly internal emails and presentations going as far back as 2009, including discussions between FBI lawyers and the Operational Technology Division (OTD), which develops and oversees the FBI’s surveillance techniques. The documents paint a picture that is similar to the one that has emerged around stingrays and IMSI catchers more generally: the FBI began testing and then using dirtboxes on planes without any overarching policy or legal guidance on their place in investigations.

In September 2015, a report from The North Star Post exposed the existence of a fleet of surveillance aircraft operated by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). The planes fly over various locations within the United States, as well as across foreign destinations. The Post reported that photos of DEA planes appear to show stingray technology, or advanced imaging technology, attached to the body of the aircraft. This would confirm suspicions that these aircraft are outfitted with DRT cell site simulators, or “dirt boxes,” as they are known when installed in planes.

In June 2015, Anti Media also reported on the existence of at least 100 surveillance planes operated by the FBI — planes managed by fake front companies rarely granted judicial approval for such actions. Some of these companies include FVX Research, KQM Aviation, NBR Aviation, and PXW Services.

The American public needs to wake up to the fact that federal agencies, local law enforcement, and private companies are operating surveillance planes around the nation. The fleets of surveillance birds represent another march towards a complete Surveillance State and total, irreversible loss of freedoms. What are you willing to do to stop this?

Derrick Broze is an investigative journalist and liberty activist. He writes for ActivistPost.com and is the founder of the TheConsciousResistance.com. Follow him on Twitter. Derrick is the author of three books: The Conscious Resistance: Reflections on Anarchy and Spirituality and Finding Freedom in an Age of Confusion, Vol. 1 and Finding Freedom in an Age of Confusion, Vol. 2.


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