WASHINGTON, 2 June 2015.Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents are using a fleet of small aircraft – under the front of fictitious businesses – armed with electro-optics over the United States. The low-flying planes are equipped with video and cell phone surveillance systems, largely being used without the consent of a judge, to gather intelligence related to specific, ongoing investigations, according to reports.
An FBI official revealed that the federal agency flew surveillance aircraft, under the guise of fake companies, over more than 30 cities in 11 states throughout the U.S. in just the past month.
The Associated Press published an image of Cessna Caravan turboprop aircraft used for government surveillance; the Cessna Caravan cockpit is shown above.
A large and growing crowd of U.S. citizens are voicing concerns over, if not outright objecting, to the use of aircraft – especially unmanned aircraft systems (UAS); many groups have formed in protest, citing privacy infringement and safety fears. This revelation about the FBI’s use of small aircraft to surveil the public certainly won’t allay those fears. Will it set the aerospace industry back, or slow adoption of small and even unmanned aircraft for myriad commercial applications?
Reporters at the Associated Press (AP) broke the news today, marking the first time “law enforcement officials have confirmed the wide-scale use of the aircraft, which the AP traced to at least 13 fake companies.”
“The FBI’s aviation program is not secret,” FBI Spokesperson Christopher Allen said in a statement. FBI.gov provides the following description of the use of aircraft by the agency’s Critical Incident Response Group (CIRG):
CIRG’s Surveillance and Aviation Section (SAS) provides modern jets and other aircraft that respond to crisis situations domestically and around the world. SAS can deploy aviation assets worldwide, including assignments in combat theaters. Capabilities include foreign transfer-of-custody flights for high-profile terrorism and criminal subjects and the delivery of hazardous and explosive material to crime laboratories located throughout the United States.
To support the FBI’s aviation mission, SAS maintains a rigorous aircraft maintenance and quality control program. Along with mandatory pilot training, these programs have produced a safety record per flight hour that is unmatched by general aviation or any other government agency. It is the responsibility of SAS to ensure that all Bureau flight operations are conducted safely.