FBI planes gathered days of video, electronic surveillance over Baltimore

The FBI flew a Cessna 182T, similar to this plane, and another aircraft over Baltimore for over 36 hours following the riots in the city, gathering video and other electronic intelligence, according to records obtained by the ACLU through a FOIA request.

The American Civil Liberties Union has obtained documents from the Federal Bureau of Investigations that detail the surveillance flights made by FBI-operated aircraft over Baltimore last May. The flights included both high-resolution optical and infrared surveillance and at least two electronic surveillance flights, though the exact nature of the sensors used on the electronic surveillance flights was redacted from the documents.

The collection of records, which includes flight logs, evidence logs, and an FBI memorandum justifying the flights, was obtained by the ACLU through a Freedom of Information Act filing on May 6. The aircraft, which were registered to FBI front companies that are used to conceal the identity of the aircraft flown by the FBI’s Special Flight Operations branch, flew day and night missions over the areas where protests were taking place in Baltimore—areas where riots broke out the previous week after the death of Freddy Grey in police custody.

The records show that the FBI not only provided live video intelligence to the Baltimore police, but also collected and saved high-resolution video footage of hundreds of people participating in protests on the streets of Baltimore—footage that may be used in the future to build profiles on those people. The records offer a look inside the FBI’s secret surveillance operations that span the country, carrying not just cameras but electronic sensors such as “dirt boxes” that can track cell phones on the ground and potentially intercept calls.

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