consultants are sandburs

Thursday, June 04, 2015

How can anyone not applaud the request Franken made to the Justice Department for disclosure of what's up with the FBI overflight fleet.

A June 4, 2015, Strib originated item, this link:

“Many Americans have been troubled by these reports, and as ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law, I believe it is important to ensure that these programs adequately protect Americans’ privacy while furthering public safety and national security,” Franken wrote.

Franken asked what surveillance technologies the FBI planes are using, rattling off a laundry list of spy gear [...]

The letter asks for an explanation of the legal authority under which the FBI is conducting the surveillance [... and] “Please provide a representative sample of the applications for these court orders,” the letter states.

Franken also asked about what policies the Department of Justice has developed for the use of these devices, and the retention of data they collect.

“What safeguards are in place to ensure that innocent Americans’ privacy is protected during aerial surveillance utilizing technology that collects data and personal information?” he asked.

Google's cache function comes through. Strangely, this morning I was unable to access this web page:

It was a first page hit for a Google = DEA fleet of small planes

It is a Justice Department item about the DEA having its own air wing too.

The AP states DEA has 92 of the airborne hummers, but provides no reporting on how they may be equipped and deployed, (be it warrantless deployment or with warrants). This link works, with DEA touting its surveillance:

In part, it states:

The Aviation Division flies tens of thousands of hours each year to fulfill its diverse mission. To keep track and control of all the Air Wing aircraft in the air and those of suspects, a high-tech monitoring center is located at Alliance. It tracks the plane's flight path to its destination. It has the latest weather reports from all over the world in order to plan operations and advise pilots in the air of weather changes.

The Planes and Helicopters of the DEA
The DEA Air Wing has over 100 fixed-wing planes and helicopters. It is a mismatched group of aircraft due to the variety of sources for the aircraft. Many were transfers from the military, some are seizures from drug dealers under the asset forfeiture program, a few are trades with manufacturers and a few are direct purchases. Today the Air Wing flies over 15 different types of aircraft.

Additional Information:
DEA Aviation Division
DEA Foreign Field Divisions
DEA El Paso Intelligence Center

[formatting as in the original] Helicopters too?? Black helicopters perhaps??

Give the several links a try and see if it is just a function of the web browser I use, as I have it configured, that I needed to seek the Google cached version of the one Justice Department item; this link:

One expects the same kind of snooping gear on each agency's air force, with each being used to spy on US citizens.

Information one hopes Sen. Franken also pursues: It only takes another parallel letter from the Senator to the Justice Department to lift both rocks.

The Justice Department link given earlier DOES WORK. It was tested in a different browser, configured differently.

At 88 pages in length, the item is linked to in this post before it has been studied. Whether it provides information of the kind Sen. Franken queried about concerning FBI air fleet devices and usage awaits study, but who wants to bet whether it either states or avoids the nitty-gritty? Pure gov-speak is my guess.

__________FURTHER UPDATE__________
The executive summary of the Justice Department DEA item did not mention type of data collected, or technology employed. Nor was data retention policy and practices at issue. It misdirected attention, in that sense, away from privacy rights of citizens toward better record keeping of flight data, which is not to be faulted to the extent documentation of flights and flight intent and purposes is important.

The accompanying image is a sidebar cut from the DEA museum air fleet page as linked to above, and of note is the touting of "Operation Snowcap" and now, gee, we have a meth problem, not cocaine. Big improvement? It does keep agency funding intact, to have some kind of problem to police, else what's the purpose of the payroll?

And, given all that DEA air traffic, after DRUG WAR ends and goals, what exactly is the FBI flying to find? If Franken's letter specified that question, it was not in Strib's excerpt.

The Justice Department memo referenced above, in its opening "Executive Summary" pages, states in part:

As of May 2011 the DEA’s aircraft fleet was comprised of 92 single and multi-engine propeller airplanes, multi-engine jet aircraft, and single and multi-engine helicopters. While the DEA’s fleet is primarily located in the United States, some DEA aircraft used to support DEA international operations are located in Afghanistan, the Commonwealth of The Bahamas, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru.

As of June 2011 the DEA employed 108 Special Agent Pilots. In FYs 2009 and 2010, DEA data indicated that DEA Special Agent Pilots flew over 24,000 flights and logged 63,000 flight hours. Over 50,000 of these flight hours (approximately 80 percent) were in support of DEA operational activities.

OIG Audit Approach
The objective of this audit was to assess the DEA’s management of its aviation operations. Specifically, we analyzed the usage, prioritization, and availability of DEA aviation assets, primarily focusing on its domestic-based aviation operations for FYs 2009 and 2010. To accomplish our objective we performed work at DEA headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, and at the DEA Aviation Operations Center in Fort Worth, Texas. We also performed fieldwork at five domestic locations, visiting DEA Aviation Resident Offices and DEA field offices. We conducted interviews with the DEA’s Chief of Operations, Chief Financial Officer, Aviation Division Special Agent in Charge, and other headquarters-level officials and personnel. Additionally, at the field locations we visited, we interviewed DEA aviation personnel, such as Resident Agents in Charge and Special Agent Pilots, as well as enforcement personnel who benefit from DEA aviation support, including field office management and Special Agents.

In addition, we examined the DEA’s procedures for requesting aviation support and flight activity data to determine how resources were used to support priority investigations. We also reviewed a 1995 OIG report on DEA’s management of its aviation program. [1 Appendix I of this report contains a more detailed description of our audit objective, scope, and methodology.]

Results in Brief
The DEA must strategically utilize its aviation resources to ensure its priority cases receive sufficient support. The DEA’s overall data suggests that priority cases make up approximately 20 percent of the DEA’s investigations, and these cases receive most of the aviation support. However, in contrast, in some of the DEA field office locations we visited we found that non-priority targets received most of the aviation support.

In addition, we found that initial requests for aviation support typically are made informally, over the phone or in person, and that DEA Special Agent Pilots may deny such requests without the involvement of DEA management. We could not confirm whether aviation support requests in the field offices we visited had been properly prioritized because there is no requirement to document the prioritization of competing requests at the field level. Accordingly, in this report we recommend that the DEA require that all aviation support requests are initiated by field office supervisors and that prioritization decisions between competing requests are documented.

Although DEA Special Agent Pilots consistently submitted to the Aviation Division mission report forms for operations they completed, we found numerous instances where incorrect or incomplete information was recorded on these mission report forms, such as incorrect case numbers. Aviation personnel also failed to consistently capture and report information related to unfulfilled requests for aviation support. According to DEA data, DEA field offices reported that 1,139 (78 percent) non-weather related, unfulfilled aviation support requests in FYs 2009 and 2010 were not fulfilled because of an unavailable aircraft (maintenance-related or otherwise), pilot, or observer. However, we found that this data was inconsistently reported and likely underreported. Accurate and complete information on fulfilled and unfulfilled requests for aviation support is important for the DEA to be able to assess the demands on its limited aviation resources, evaluate the aviation support provided, and project its future aviation resource needs. We make recommendations in this report that we believe will help the DEA improve how it captures and utilizes this information to more accurately project and manage aviation program needs.

We also found that maintenance was the most frequently reported reason for unfulfilled aviation support requests during FYs 2009 and 2010. In FY 2010, 58 of the 100 available DEA aircraft were operational more than 80 percent of the time while 42 aircraft were grounded due to maintenance issues more than 20 percent of the time, including 6 aircraft that were available less than 60 percent of the time. As of December 2010, the DEA’s fleet ranged in age from 2 years to over 35 years old. Our review showed that substitute aircraft were generally made available during times of prolonged aircraft maintenance.

In addition, we found that certain DEA practices may jeopardize the safety of DEA aviation personnel and assets. DEA aircraft are maintained in 40 locations across the United States. In each of these locations the DEA’s aviation program is a covert operation, with knowledge of aviation asset locations generally limited to DEA personnel. However, despite the covert nature of these operations, in 24 of these locations DEA aircraft are stored in hangar spaces shared with commercial organizations or private individuals. In one location we visited that is known for a high-level of drug trafficking activity, DEA personnel noted that those sharing its hangar space changed often and that the DEA did not control who had had access to the hangar. Therefore, there is a risk that DEA aircraft could be stored with aircraft owned by individuals or organizations involved in drug trafficking. In addition, after searching Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) aircraft registration records we found, as of September 2011, 13 DEA domestic-based aircraft that should have been covertly registered to fictitious or cover organizations but were not. Although we recognize that it is impossible for the DEA to completely eliminate security threats to its aviation personnel and property, we make recommendations in this report that we believe will help the DEA minimize potential risks.

With that as Justice Department fodder from 2011, it is difficult to imagine that similar documentation problems would, today, plague the FBI's current flight operations. Hence, Sen. Franken should get detail.

Now, his security clearance level might be in play, to stonewall him, unless he has top clearance. He should have clearance, there is no reason to deny it to him, but he may not.

A hypothetical: Suppose for the sake of argument that sensor equipment might include ultra-sensitive Tritium decay pattern detection, to determine whether threat exists from smuggling in of nuclear devices during the Cold War, which is feasible given the alleged porosity of the borders, to drug smuggling. Missile gap rhetoric from the Cold War aside, the pre-placement of devices by both sides would have been more or less likely, and if that is an FBI objective it would be a whole problematic ball of wax to get into flight objectives publicly. Surely in the course of mutual disarmament if there were stashed devices some might have been disclosed and disabled. But some could have been left in place in urban locales. It is a sobering national security consideration that the hypothetical might be real. Such worry has a place in things. Presuming the government is smart enough to have the worry and then also has the technology to equip FBI aircraft to do such hypothetical overflight hunting effectively, then in such an instance delicacies of international relations may reasonably serve to curb a full public airing of FBI air fleet detail.

___________FURTHER UPDATE__________
As to how your FBI may view you, consider this representative (but dated) tech report, and this Google. In 2001 "gait recognition" was being funded, and reported in the open literature. Capabilities for face and gait recognition doubtlessly advanced over intervening years, so if you walk out in the open, they know who you are, even if you left your cell phone at home.

___________FURTHER UPDATE__________
Ars Technica raises another privacy point for our man Al's attention:

The DEA attributed the increased use of wiretaps to a corresponding increase in the types of devices and methods that drug traffickers use to communicate. [...]

But beyond the simple increase in the number of intercepts that the DEA conducted, it seems that the agency is bypassing more stringent federal rules for getting wiretap approval. The wiretap counts show that in 2005, there were twice as many intercepts approved by federal courts as there were intercepts approved by state courts. In 2009 there were about as many intercepts approved by federal courts as there were intercepts approved by state courts. And in 2012, the number of intercepts approved by state courts began definitively surpassing those approved by federal courts.

Although state wiretap laws “must include all of the safeguards federal law requires,” getting approval to go ahead with the wiretap is generally easier if the DEA makes its case to a state court. USA Today explains: “Federal law requires approval from a senior Justice Department official before agents can even ask a federal court for permission to conduct one. The law imposes no such restriction on state court wiretaps, even when they are sought by federal agents.

That is pretty shabby of the narcs. Circumvention is not clean-as-a-whistle compliance with legislated constraints. They are two entirely different things.

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