The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is behind fictitious companies who hire small, civilian planes and pilots to fly advanced spy technology over American cities.
The Associated Press (AP) traced at least 50 aircraft to the FBI and identified more than 100 flights in 11 states over a 30-day period since late April flying over both major cities and rural areas.
“It’s important that federal law enforcement personnel have the tools they need to find and catch criminals,” said Charles Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“But whenever an operation may also monitor the activities of Americans who are not the intended target, we must make darn sure that safeguards are in place to protect the civil liberties of innocent Americans,” according to AP.
For years the FBI has used the planes to provide support to FBI operations on the ground.
Today however, aircraft are equipped with high-tech cameras and are outfitted with technology capable of tracking thousands of cellphones, raising questions about how these surveillance flights affect Americans’ privacy.
“The FBI’s aviation program is not secret,” said spokesman Christopher Allen. “Specific aircraft and their capabilities are protected for operational security purposes.”
The false front companies are there for protection of the pilots and for the anonymity of the planes so they can’t be identified by the suspects being followed, according to Allen.
The FBI are not the only ones that do this. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has 92 of its own planes and the U.S. Marshalls have their own fleet, according to a Justice Department report and a report by The Wall Street Journal.