New reports have revealed that both the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security were using spy planes and other airborne surveillance technology to monitor the protests for black lives that have been taking place across the country.
Despite saying it does not monitor activity protected by the First Amendment, the FBI used a Cessna jet specially equipped with cameras for long-range video surveillance to capture footage above protests in Washington D.C. earlier this month, reports Buzzfeed News.
Normally, this elite spy plane is deployed for some of the FBI’s most important surveillance missions, providing eyes in the sky when federal agents arrest drug traffickers or violent gang members. But this isn’t the first time it has flown over Black Lives Matter protests: A BuzzFeed News review of flight tracking records has established that the same aircraft circled above Baltimore in April and May of 2015, during the unrest that followed the death of Freddie Gray from severe injuries sustained in police custody.
A Freedom of Information request filed by the ACLU in 2015 revealed that the FBI had recorded video surveillance footage via planes flown over protests in Baltimore against the killing of Freddie Grey.
The Department of Homeland Security has also gone full throttle in monitoring Americans practicing their constitutional right to assemble over the past few weeks. More than 270 hours of demonstration footage from across 15 cities was logged by Homeland Security using drones, helicopters, and airplanes, the New York Times reported.
From the Times:
Aircraft filmed demonstrations in Dayton, Ohio; New York City; Buffalo and Philadelphia, among other cities, sending video footage in real time to control centers managed by Air and Marine Operations, a branch of Customs and Border Protection.
The footage was then fed into a digital network managed by the Homeland Security Department, called “Big Pipe,” which can be accessed by other federal agencies and local police departments for use in future investigations, according to senior officials with Air and Marine Operations.
House Democrats wrote to the acting head of Homeland Security Chad Wolf earlier this month about their concern at surveillance taking place above demonstrations in Minneapolis, saying “the deployment of drones and officers to surveil protests is a gross abuse of authority and is particularly chilling when used against Americans who are protesting law enforcement brutality.”
The letter requested a list of jurisdictions where the DHS has conducted or assisted in conducting protest surveillance since May, and who in each jurisdiction made the request for such assistance.
The question of who is making these orders is an especially relevant one.
A preliminary investigation by the National Guard recently found that a lack of clarity in orders was what led to a military helicopter flying low and kicking up strong wind and debris around protestors in Washington on June 1—a common tactic used by military in overseas combat zones according to CNN.
The Department of Homeland Security has claimed that the drones it used to monitor recent protests in Minneapolis, Buffalo, and Del Rio in Texas were not programmed to fly low enough to detect faces, but I wouldn’t take their word for it.
Stay woke, y’all.