Tag Archives: Baltimore

Second Body Cam Video of Baltimore Police Planting Drugs Then “Finding” Them Has Surfaced

Baltimore Police Department Planting Drugs Video

For the second time in a matter of weeks, body camera footage has been released showing officers from the Baltimore Police Department planting drugs. In both videos, the planting of that evidence was exposed by a feature of the body cams that causes them to begin saving video thirty seconds prior to the point where they are manually activated. This video is from November 2016, while the earlier one dates from January of this year.

In this latest video to surface, police were conducting a traffic stop in which they were profiling drivers in an effort to make drug arrests. After claiming to have seen the passenger in Shamere Collins’ vehicle making a drug sale, the police stopped them. However, after a thorough search, no drugs were found anywhere in the car.

The body cam video of that initial search includes audio of one officer stating that there would be “negative consequences” if they didn’t find drugs and thereby couldn’t arrest someone. After that, the cops for no apparent reason all turned their body cameras off.

What followed, according to CBS News.com:

When the cameras come back on, an officer is seen squatting by the driver’s side of the suspect’s car, apparently unaware that he’s being recorded.

He then stands up and steps back. About 30 seconds pass, and another officer approaches the car, then squats down and pulls out a bag of drugs.

Although the charges were thrown out once the public defender representing her got ahold of this video, Collins and her boyfriend, who was the passenger were charged with possession of opiates and marijuana, as a result. According to Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, dozens more cases that involve this group of officers could also be thrown out.

Meanwhile, Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis maintained that this is no reason for the public to “jump to conclusions” or make “heavy allegations” about police misconduct based on the video. Because concluding that something suspicious was going on after all the cops turned their cameras off right after one of them expressed concerns about getting in trouble if they didn’t find any drugs to justify an arrest, then video (that the cops didn’t expect to be recorded) showing one cop crouching next to the car, followed by body cam video (that they did expect to be recorded) of a different cop easily finding drugs in that same area after it had already been thoroughly searched is quite a jump.

Of course, this also comes on the heals of the previously released video (embedded below), which is even more damning. In that video, Officer Richard Pinheiro can be clearly seen putting a bag inside a can on a pile of debris in an alley. He then walks back out to the street, accompanied by two other officers who have not been named.

After activating the camera, he proceeds to walk back down the alley as one of the unnamed officers can be heard laughing behind him. Miraculously, he manages to quickly zero in on the can shortly after searching through the debris pile. He then pulls out the bag that he unwittingly recorded himself planting to reveal that it is filled with pills.

The man who was arrested as a result spent over seven months in jail awaiting trial before this video was made public and his charges were thrown out. So far, thirty-four other cases have also been thrown out and as many as fifty-five more could be, as well. Officer Pinheiro was (only) suspended for his actions, while the two other officers that watched (and laughed) as he planted evidence have received no punishment at all.

Not Isolated Incidents

These incidents don’t represent the only times that the Baltimore police have been under scrutiny for manufacturing evidence and manipulating body cameras. In March, all seven members of an “elite task force” that targets illegal weapons and drug crimes were indicted on racketeering charges for robberies that included completely innocent people of cash and filing false paperwork to get paid for overtime they didn’t actually work. In the process, they also falsified search warrants to justify detentions and traffic stops against their intended targets. As they were performing these “shake downs,” officers were known to have turned off their body cameras.

Nor is this the first confirmed instance of body camera footage being falsified to show police finding evidence against suspects. In May of this year, charges were dropped against a man in Colorado after a cop in Pueblo admitted he staged a video of himself  finding heroin and a gun in his car. In that case, Officer Seth Jensen claimed that he was merely “reenacting” his legitimate discovery of the evidence.

An “Unintended Consequence” of Transparency?

Given all of that, it’s rather interesting that in the CBS News video embedded below (beginning at about 3:45) correspondent Jeff Pegues characterizes the issue as a “downside of video transparency” and an “unintended consequence” of police wearing body cameras. Apparently, on his planet these type of incidents aren’t an argument for increased scrutiny and transparency, but rather a problem for “police departments that have to defend themselves against this type of policing.”

Obviously, I can’t see any reason we shouldn’t just trust these cops and accept their word. It would be crazy if cops didn’t have the ability to freely plant evidence without being detected and police departments had no incentive to eliminate “this type of policing.” That freedom to just arrest whoever they want and make up a reason undoubtedly would make their tough jobs so much easier.

Watch him throw it into the floorboards

BPD Officer Richard Pinheiro planting drugs

CBS News coverage of  the latest incident:

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The Blue Mafia: New Book Explores Police Brutality and Consent Decrees in Ohio

The following post was shared with the CopBlock Network by Tim Tolka, via the CopBlock.org Submissions Page. Within the post, Tim discusses “Blue Mafia,” a book he wrote detailing police corruption and violence in Ohio, specifically concerning the police departments in Steubenville and Warren. Also included is a video preview of that book by Tim.

Tim also states:

The book is forthcoming and mentions all the officers involved by name with extensive documentation from the media, court documents, former and current officials and witnesses.

Blue Mafia: An Exploration of Consent Decrees in Ohio

A new book entitled “Blue Mafia” examines the nation’s second ever and fourth oldest Department of Justice (DOJ) investigations of patterns and practices of police misconduct in two small Ohio towns seated in Rustbelt Democratic counties. Ohio has hosted as many federal police misconduct investigations as New York state although it has only a fraction of its population. Only California has hosted more investigations than Ohio, although it has more than twice Ohio’s population. However, nowhere has the DOJ been resisted more fiercely than in Ohio.

In 1995, civil rights lawyer Richard Olivito began to feel hunted while litigating a civil rights case against the Steubenville police. He and his family received death threats. He and his wife survived two failed assassination attempts before placing a desperate call to the DOJ and driving to D.C. to meet with federal attorneys. The DOJ later sent two attorneys to investigate and requested a truckload of documents from the city of Steubenville. In 1997, the DOJ sued Steubenville for a pattern of civil rights violations and the city signed the second consent decree in U.S. history.

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The pattern of misconduct that caused Steubenville to become one of the less than 3% of municipalities saddled with a consent decree was essentially similar to that of the LAPD Rampart scandal. There were one or two allegations the DOJ was aware of against the police in Steubenville that not even the LAPD could touch. Steubenville has a history of corruption and organized crime which persists until the present day. The federal auditor for the consent decree eventually admitted that he couldn’t change the town’s culture or the choices of its powerful families.

Before the DOJ came to town, there were brutal and unaccountable police on the payroll of the mob in Steubenville. In 1986, the chief was accused of beating a white British woman who was with a black man in a Bob Evans, while yelling “niggerlover!” Once, an officer beat a woman with a chair inside the local courthouse, yet the chief famously refused to discipline his officers. Meanwhile, the county prosecutor was recruiting hitmen into an undercover narcotics task force and plotting to set people up, rob them and even murder them. Richard Olivito handled two criminal cases in which it was revealed in open court that an officer planted evidence and trafficked drugs. All these circumstances on top of forty-four court settlements in civil rights cases piqued the interest of the DOJ Civil Rights Division.

Six years after being involved in the DOJ investigation of Steubenville, Olivito again faced DOJ attorneys on the other side of a conference room in 2003. One of them asked, “Is it as bad as Steubenville?” Olivito replied,”I think it’s worse. It’s laced with racism.” Olivito visited the DOJ after he learned of strip searches, beatings and multiple alleged murders by the Warren police.

Warren was Ferguson ten years before the death of Michael Brown and had similar problems as recently reported by the DOJ in the Baltimore Police Department. In 2003, a video of three cops beating an African American was broadcast by national outlets. Strip searches were “routine” after traffic stops, if cops discovered the driver has a suspended license or acted in a way they didn’t like. A spree of volatile new lawsuits on top of more than fifty during the preceding decades as well as desperate calls from community leaders convinced the Bush DOJ to investigate in 2005, but the DOJ didn’t file a suit accusing Warren of a pattern and practice of civil rights violations until 2012.

Still today, no Warren officer has ever been fired for excessive force and no officer has ever been punished in a lethal force incident. The nine-year tenure of the department’s former chief, John Mandopoulos caused DOJ intervention after two years and a pattern of federal involvement which intensified after every presidential election. The WPD now hosts the fourth oldest DOJ investigation in the country, as they “strive everyday to reach compliance with the decree,” which must be maintained for two years in order for the consent decree to be lifted.

Blue Mafia portrays the challenge of civil rights on the frontline against police brutality in the courts and the streets of America. No other book examines the federal process of police reform in comparable depth, revealing the influence of local and national politics as well as insurers, law firms and police unions. Often, the DOJ is the last line of defense for small town residents, but it offers no remedy to those deprived and violated, only the promise of a less brutal future. For residents in Cleveland, Baltimore, Chicago and other cities with ongoing DOJ settlement agreements, there is much to learn from the experiences of Warren and Steubenville.

– Tim Tolka

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Former Chicago Bears Superbowl QB Jim McMahon Urges NFL Allow Medical Marijuana For Players

Jim McMahon Medical Marijuana NFL

Jim McMahon, the Superbowl XX winning quarterback from the 1985 Chicago Bears, a team which is often considered one of the best all-time teams and arguably the best defense in the history of the NFL, has joined the long list of people advocating for the medical use of marijuana.

Currently, McMahon is battling symptoms attributed to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), such as early dementia, severe headaches, memory loss and depression, all of which have been attributed to the effects of multiple concussions and for obvious reasons are especially prevalent among people involved in contact sports.

Even in states in which medical marijuana has already been legalized, the National Football League prohibits its use among players. Anyone testing positive for marijuana use, regardless of local laws (even in Washington and Colorado, which both allow recreational use), are subject to punishments that increase with each instance.

McMahon made his statements advocating for marijuana as an alternative to opiates for pain management while appearing as part of a panel discussion by retired NFL players at the Cannabis World Congress and Business Expo. The panel was held at Manhattan’s Javits Convention Center.

Via the Sporting News:

The panel, according to the New York Daily News, was moderated by former Giants defensive lineman Leonard Marshall and included former Bears quarterback Jim McMahon, former Broncos tight end Nate Jackson, former Broncos wide receiver Charlie Adams and former Jaguars offensive tackle Eben Britton.

McMahon, who is dealing with early dementia, severe headaches, memory loss and depression — all symptoms associated with too many concussions — believes he would be healthier now if he was allowed to use marijuana instead of pills during his playing career. Marijuana is an effective pain killer and less harmful than opiods, McMahon said.

“Hundreds of thousands of people are dying from [painkillers] and there’s not one case of people dying from the hemp plant,” McMahon said.

Britton added, “Juxtaposing my experiences with pharmaceutical drugs like Vicodin and Percocet, that made me angry and irritable, frustrated, didn’t get rid of any of the pain, made it difficult to sleep, increased my heart rate and made me feel crazy. On the other side of that there’s cannabis that helped me sleep, put me into a healing state of being where I was relieved from stress and anxiety as well as feeling the pain relief.”

Jackson, who appeared on an edition of HBO’s Real Sports that dealt with the same issue, added, “The owners of these teams are, by and large, wealthy men who are older and do not understand that this is a pretty innocuous substance.”

As is also mentioned in the Sporting News article, this offseason the Baltimore Ravens cut Eugene Monroe, a former first round pick who has campaigned publicly for the acceptance of medical marijuana in the NFL. Many people, including Monroe, have attributed that move to his strong advocacy for cannabis use, although the Ravens have denied that is the case.

Jim McMahon Superbowl XX MoonMcMahon, who was known as much for his flamboyant attitude and defiance of arbitrary or silly rules as he was for his play on the field, is no stranger to alternative medical practices or controversy. In one of the more famous photos from the build up to Superbowl XX, he mooned a helicopter while wearing a headband that said “ACUPUNCTURE” on it.

He later explained that he was just showing the media where he had received treatment for an injury he had received in a game the previous week. (The headband derived from an incident earlier in the season where he was fined $5,000 for having an Adidas label on his head band during a game and subsequently wore a headband with “ROZELLE” written on it in reference to the league commissioner, who had fined him.)

Jim McMahon Rozelle HeadbandIt’s silly and contradictory that the NFL approves the use of opiates and all kinds of other horrible pharmaceutical medications for players if they have a prescription (and sometimes without even having one), but prohibits the same medical rights for cannabis patients, even in locations where it can be legally prescribed by a doctor. In fact, it’s not at all unusual for players with lingering injuries to receive shots that numb the affected area in order to play during a game. Stories have even emerged of players receiving such shots in the locker room during a game in which they were injured.

So, it’s clearly not a case of the NFL being opposed to drug use in general or a concern for the safety or health of players. Their refusal to accept that playing in the NFL and improper care for concussions in the past increased the chances of players developing CTE alone is proof of that not being true.

The least they could do is give those players the option of using a safe and non-addictive option to treat the pain is inherent to the game. Being that there are different laws in the different cities which have NFL teams, there’s a small complication in the fact that some players would have access to legal medical marijuana while others wouldn’t because they state they live in still living in the dark ages.

However, in reality, all they would have to do is remove it from the list of drugs which they test for. Legally, they are not under any obligation to test for drugs, whether they are illegal or otherwise. Players certainly make enough money that they could set up residence during the offseason within the states that do allow its use for the next four or five years or so until it’s made legal not just for medical use, but for recreational use as well, nationwide. (That writings on the wall in big letters.)

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Federal “Investigations” Only Enable Local Police Departments’ Abuses

The following post was originally posted at NationalInterest.org by  under the title “Washington Can’t Fix Broken Policing.” It addresses the idea that having a the Department of Justice (DoJ) or some other federal agency such as the FBI investigate abuses by local police or court official will lead to a fair or meaningful resolution.

Despite the prevalence of calls for the Federal Government to intervene in high profile cases, the truth is that what really happens when the Feds step in is it delays and distracts from the original issues and almost always leads to (intentionally) ineffective and superficial reform proposals, most of which are often not even adopted.

Many times after the “investigation” by federal officials has afforded time for tempers to cool and the spotlight has been removed from those on the local level, they end vindicating the abusers anyway or proposing a slew of hollow changes. When the “cavalry” arrives, they’re usually shooting blanks.

(Share relevant content or your own personal stories and/or videos  with the CopBlock Network, via the CopBlock.org Submissions Page.)

Washington Can’t Fix Broken Policing

Federal intervention allows local officials to evade responsibility.

It has been one year since Freddie Gray died while in the custody of the Baltimore Police Department. Gray’s death sparked peaceful protests and then calamitous riots that brought international attention and prompted the deployment of National Guard units. While local prosecutors indicted the officers involved in Gray’s arrest, the federal government promised to investigate the entire police department for a “pattern or practice” of constitutional violations. The impending outcome of that inquiry seems foreordained. The real question is whether federal monitoring can truly fix a broken police department. The conventional wisdom is that it can, but experience tells us that it can be counterproductive.

Since the Ferguson riot in 2014, police departments across the country have been under unprecedented scrutiny. When a pattern of wrongdoing or dysfunction is exposed, we hear a familiar refrain: this department is so bad that it is incapable of correcting itself, so federal intervention is necessary. After some initial resistance, the city of Ferguson has now agreed to a federal monitor. Last week, Newark also agreed to a federal monitor, to oversee its troubled police force. The Justice Department has also investigated and instituted reforms in many of the United States’ big-city police departments—Los Angeles, New Orleans, Detroit, Cleveland and Pittsburgh, to name a few.

Police StateClearly, police misconduct is more widespread than many want to admit. In Chicago, the shooting death of Laquan McDonald, caught on camera, has roiled minority neighborhoods because they see it as only the most recent episode of police wrongdoing there. It is safe to say that other cities may be one incident away from similar unrest.

Mayors and city councils don’t want police misconduct to occur, but in too many cities they let the problem fester. To the extent that they’re even paying attention, the typical political calculation seems to be this: it’s better to have the support of the police department and police union come election time, so don’t take steps that they will oppose.

There is, however, a cost to that political calculation: minority resentment toward city government—especially the police. After all, the victims of illegal detention, illegal searches and excessive force have friends, neighbors and relatives. And when bad cops are not dealt with, it is not unfair to conclude that the department itself is indifferent to injustice. This explains the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement.

When a shocking incident of police misconduct comes along, the fecklessness of local governance is exposed in the glare of the media spotlight. Suddenly, reporters are asking pointed questions. Exactly how many people have been shot by the police department? Why was video evidence withheld from the public? What accountability systems are in place to track and remove problem officers?

The optimal moment for police reform comes in the immediate aftermath of a police scandal. The public is aroused, and if the problems run deep into the department itself, voters want those problems corrected. Local politicians find themselves on the spot. They can’t afford to appear uninterested, but they’d rather not fight the police department either. Instead of rolling up their sleeves to make some politically difficult decisions, they posture as reformers by joining the chorus calling for a federal civil rights investigation.

When the feds do intervene, everyone seems to be pleased. The heat is off the local officials to address police misconduct. They say they’ll have to await the outcome of the federal investigation before taking any action. Federal officials are pleased because they are seen as the cavalry coming to the rescue. Civil rights activists are satisfied because they think a federal lawsuit will bring about needed reforms. The police department and police union benefit as well. The intense media scrutiny will now fade as the months roll past.

Unfortunately, federal intervention has a counterproductive “enabling” effect: it allows local officials to evade their responsibility to fix broken police organizations. When the local politicos make a plea for federal intervention, it deflects attention away from their oversight failure and actually squanders the prospect for sweeping changes at a pivotal moment.

There is a borderline reverence for federal intervention among academics and journalists, which has blinded them to political dynamics that should strike us as odd. On the surface, it appears as if the feds are imposing wide-ranging reforms on local officialdom. In truth, however, the local officials chose that outcome once the feds were invited in. Here’s the quandary: the local politicos had the capability to enact reforms all along, so why didn’t they embrace such measures to head off a federal lawsuit? Experience has shown, time and again, that local officials would rather cope with federal monitors than fight powerful police unions.

Federal monitors have not succeeded where local officials are intransigent about reform. Arizona’s Joe Arpaio, sheriff of Maricopa County, is an example. Arpaio may lose a case in court, but he remains defiant and wins reelection. There have been improvements in the cities with reform-minded mayors and police chiefs—but in those cases, federal monitors were never really necessary. The monitors merely provided the local officials with additional political leverage against the police lobby. Local political fights, however, should not be considered an appropriate basis for federal lawsuits and federal takeovers of local police operations.

Police misconduct is a serious problem. If the solution was simple, it would have already been adopted. The hard truth is that a good police department requires the sustained commitment of locally elected officials to that goal. If that commitment is absent, federal intervention will only obscure that reality, and make it more difficult for voters to hold the local politicos accountable for their neglect.

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Questionable FBI Surveillance Aircraft Fleet Outed by Coalition of Journalists, Activists, And Techies

The following post was submitted to the CopBlock Network by Isiah Holmes, who has been featured several times previously on Cop Block, via the CopBlock.org Submissions Page. In this post, Isiah discusses the use of aircraft FBI to conduct surveillance and the role that private citizens (along with the media) played in uncovering and exposing the program’s existence and just how widespread its use is.

(Note: The FBI’s use of surveillance aircraft to spy on activists and protesters was also discussed by Asa J in an earlier post published in August of last year.)

Mice Chasing The Hawk

There exists a variety of stories notorious — amongst those whom it concerns — for their uncanny quality of illuminating hidden plights and unsung heroes. Such tales, unfortunately, rarely experience veneration in modern western society. For the sake of this piece, think not of the many examples of centuries old legends and fables. Instead, accept the challenge of recognizing just one of this variety’s countless modern manifestations. For instance, when a loose coalition of professional and citizen journalists, activists, and techies blew the lid off the FBI’s questionable, nationwide aerial surveillance program. Blew the lid–only to have the story locked into a press loop where it ultimately succumbed to starvation. This piece might be considered a functional revival of the tale.

It began in Baltimore in 2015, after Freddie Gray’s death in police custody and during the subsequent protests and riots. Cameras were everywhere, whether belonging to Baltimore PD, press, bystanders or active civic dissidents. No one, however, anticipated cameras and cell phone collection tech, for that matter, having circled above them for days. International Business Times reports, Benjamin Shayne, leader of the police radio site www.scanbaltimore.com, was among the first to notice unusual air traffic. Shayne took to Twitter: “Anyone know who has been flying the light plane in circles above the city for the past few nights?” The planes, according to IBT, which flew from April 30th-May 2nd 2015, appeared shortly after Baltimore initiated a city-wide curfew.

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Following Benjamin’s tip, a coalition of Twitter and Reddit users, including one former ACLU employee, united to monitor the planes. According to IBT, a trove of data on the aircraft was compiled through their combined talents. Exact flight paths, docking airports, and owners were tracked. The planes were now being watched back.

According to a Washington Post piece, although one plane appeared to lack a tail number, a second was tracked back to “NG Research.” The company’s website boasts of expertise in air quality, aerosol chemistry, and health effects, but speaks not on why its plane was over Baltimore that day.

Once questions started flooding web feeds, the FBI, surprisingly, released a statement glistening with trepidation. “The aircraft,” officials said; according to the Washington Post, “were specifically used to provide high altitude observation of potential criminal activity to enable rapid response by police officials on the ground.” An Improv Online investigation into suspicious planes had–undoubtedly–forced “The Man” to come forward publicly on this “program.” Perhaps it’s safe to say that information, or rather free information, is power.

Due to the government’s reluctance, as well as technology concerns, the ACLU filed several FOIA requests. In tandem with the ACLU’s push, the Associated Press launched their own in depth investigation on the aircraft’s purpose and origin. As it turns out, an entire FBI controlled surveillance-purposed fleet waited for them at the end of the rabbit hole.

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The manned planes, carrying both powerful cameras, including infrared cameras, and cell phone data collection technology reputedly operate above cities quite often. All the craft, the Huffpost reports, are superficially attached not to a government program, but to fictitious companies used as fronts. Many sources reported on the infrared camera’s capabilities of literally seeing people inside of homes. The very nature of the technology is rather wide reaching and indiscriminate, meaning non-targets frequently are recorded. A 2001 Supreme Court decision, Kyllo v. United States, Washington Post reports, held using thermal imagers to “see details” inside enclosed buildings without a warrant amounts to an unlawful search.

AP journalists also discovered that despite the program’s capabilities, deployments are rarely approved by a judge. In light of this fact, according to the Huffington Post, FBI asserts the planes are deployed only for specific, ongoing investigations. Exactly what sort of investigations is entirely unclear.

In fact, nearly a year later, even basic information on the program is vigorously withheld. In terms of explicit references, the HuffPost reports, little more than already heavily censored Justice Department Inspector General reports is public. “The FBI’s aviation program is not secret”, says spokesman Christopher Allen. “Specific aircraft”, he continues, “and their capabilities are protected for operational purposes.” Allen, according to the HuffPost, asserts the planes are not “equipped, designed, or used for bulk collection activities or mass surveillance.” The FBI also, apparently, allocates the fleet as air support for local departments, on-request.

fbi-spy-plane-2-bSuch statements downplaying the possibility of bulk data collection do nothing, however, to explain the plane’s flight patterns. The AP, the HuffPost reports, uncovered flights orbiting large, enclosed buildings for extended periods of time. These areas, such as Virginia’s Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and Minnesota’s Mall Of America, made photo surveillance unlikely. Rather, electronic signals collection, the AP found, proves far more effective under such circumstances. The FBI planes, according to the AP’s flight data analysis, by 2015 had flown over at least 40,000 residents.

Conversely, officials did attribute gear capable of identifying people by their cellphones, even when not making calls, to the craft. Officials, the HuffPost echoed, say such devices, which mimic cellphone towers into providing basic subscriber information, are rarely deployed. The FBI’s cryptic program, sources claim, conjures memories of reports of suspicious planes circling US neighborhoods in 2003.

Through its investigation, the Associated Press was able to track 50 planes down to at least 13 fake companies. No, this is not hyperbole. They’re literally fraudulent, not real, lies, or whatever synonym you care to choose. FVX Research, KQM Aviation, NBR aviation, and PXW Services, according to the Huffington Post, were included among the AP’s findings. It’s interesting to note that, at least with these four companies, all have three letter acronym names. Not, of course, unlike the Federal Bureau of Investigations. A 2010 federal budget document, according to the HuffPost, verified the FBI’s fleet size at around 115 craft.

So really, to what extent is the federal law enforcement organization being brazenly, shamelessly deceptive? The FBI, according to the HuffPost, did ask the AP to not include any company names in its reporting. The bureau reputedly used the taxpayer dollars which would go towards replacing the disclosed companies as a kind of blackmail. Classy. The AP, of course, declined the FBI’s request as only publicly accessible information was used.

Most of the aircraft, despite belonging to different “companies”, were registered under a specific name–Robert Lindley. Registration documents signed by Lindley’s hand, HuffPost reports, display at least three distinct signatures. Hoping to verify the man’s existence, the AP has tried and failed to reach Robert through multiple Washington-area phone numbers under that name. FBI officials, to this day, refuse to comment on whether or not Lindley is a government employee.

By analyzing the plane’s flight data, journalists discovered the FBI fleet flew over more than 30 cities over a 30 day period. Since April 2015, two months before the Huffington Post piece, at least 100 flights circled both major cities and rural areas. Associated Press photographers even captured an image of a plane circling like a ghostly hawk in northern Virginia’s skies. The aircraft, the HuffPost reports, sported both a variety of suspicious antenna under its fuselage and a mounted camera.

Cities on the FBI’s flight list include: Houston, Phoenix, Seattle, Chicago, Boston, Minneapolis, and southern California. Some of these cities, a quick google search reveals, were subject to recent protests and/or civil unrest, such as California, Chicago and, of course, Baltimore. Despite any such public data professional and citizen journalists, analysts, or researchers may gleam, fundamental questions abound. What precisely is the purpose or function of this specific program? How long has it been operational, and under what laws is it bound or regulated? Where does excess data and footage go? How far is too far?

FBI Surveillance BaltimoreDespite the FBI’s recent downplaying of its surveillance program, its statement before congress in 2009 really says it all. “Aircraft surveillance has become an indispensable intelligence collection and investigative technique which serves as a force multiplier to the ground teams.” According to the Huffington Post, this was part of the FBI’s bid to Congress for $5.1 million in funding for the so-called “spy plane” program.

Ask yourself, what does this statement and the amount of money the FBI requested, taken either alone or together, say about the program? Does it seem like its aircraft and the technology they’re equipped with would be so rarely utilized as officials claim? “A lot of questions are unclear”, says ACLU staff attorney Nathan Wessler, the Washington Post reports.

Is it safe to suppose at least part of the programs mandate involves surveillance of generously populated protests, rowdy or otherwise? Almost sensing the question lurking about its flank the Justice Department, the HuffPost reports, maintained its “drones” don’t deploy “solely” to monitor First Amendment protected activity. In Baltimore’s case, according to FBI and Federal Aviation Administration documents, both night vision and inferred tech scanned crowds below. The documents, Washington Post reports, were obtained by the ACLU through Freedom Of Information Act requests.

An FBI official, under anonymity due to the programs sensitive nature, claimed the planes were ensuring public safety. The official, according to Washington Post, used a “potential for large scale violence and riots” as justification. “Potential”, suggesting the planes were in the air before the ground atmosphere went agro. In case you’re wondering, documents also showed no evidence of a warrant being obtained prior or after the Baltimore operation.

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If there’s at all a silver lining in any of this, it’s how much independent people really contributed to the story. Most of the information used to track, verify, and ultimately link the planes to FBI’s program hid within a slush of online data. Even the Associated Press wouldn’t have conducted an investigation had Benjamin Shayne not first tweeted about the suspicious planes. A decentralized online contingent of bloggers and Reddit users, not the organized press, was the first to conduct any serious inquiry. It’s an utter travesty that the same headline, “FBI behind mysterious surveillance aircraft over cities”, along with nearly the same AP articles, were published across the board. If that’s not a press loop then a challenge goes out to anyone who can give a more textbook example.

For anyone interested conducting a more concurrent investigation, technologist John Wiseman, Fusion.net reports, has some tips to offer. Wiseman himself used public records to get flight routes, some of which can be found online. One would be surprised what kind of legitimate information floats about the slush untouched simply because no one, except those who care, bothers to look. John also reputedly used a modified radio receiver to pick up aircraft transmissions, and tracked tail numbers, provided by the Washington Post, to a fake company. Wiseman, Fusion.net reports, recommends sites like flightradar20 and flightaware for tracking aircraft registration numbers.

Here’s where this blog gets functional! Anyone willing, able, and/or both are by all means invited to rehash the investigation. Larger news organizations might feel subliminal pressure from the feds to keep quiet, edit stories, or what have you, but the people will not. How hard would it be to, say, check up on new data on the already “found out” planes? Where are they now? Have they traded hands or do the front-companies still stand? Speaking of the “companies”, they’re fair game too! NG Research, for example, has a website which can be easily found by googling the company name. No, there isn’t any product listings on the page. No, the page hasn’t changed for over a year despite it apparently being an actual company. A functional revival of the FBI’s surveillance program, even if not published, may prove uniquely valuable in the days to come.

– Isiah Holmes

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