22:23 GMT26 January 2020
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    The FBI press office said that FBI equips its surveillance aircraft with cell site simulators in pressing circumstances.

    WASHINGTON (Sputnik) — The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) equips its surveillance aircraft with cell site simulators in pressing circumstances, the FBI press office said in a press release on Thursday.

    “With a court order, or under exigent circumstances such as a hostage situation, the aircraft can be fitted to include a cell site simulator,” the press release said.

    On Tuesday, the Associated Press reported that FBI has been operating a small aircraft carrying video and cellphone technology to conduct surveillance.

    Cell site simulators mimic cell phone towers in order to receive mobile phones’ unique identifying information. The simulators enable the US military and intelligence to precisely locate cell phones.

    The FBI said the surveillance aircraft program was not secret and covert registration is done “under rigorous oversight” of the US Department of Justice and in full compliance with guidelines for undercover operations.

    Moreover, FBI said cell site simulators are rarely utilized on aircraft and are installed only with senior-level approval.

    “These aircraft are not equipped, designed or used for bulk collection activities or mass surveillance, and are not routinely equipped with cell site simulators,” the press release said.

    In May 2015, FBI was accused by US human rights organizations of abusing cell phone surveillance technology.

    The US Justice Department has said the equipment used meets the US Attorney General’s and FBI’s guidelines.

    FBI also reported that it registers some of its aircraft employed to conduct investigation of targets covertly to protect the planes from being compromised.

    “Some of our aircraft are registered covertly because overt registration would put our aircraft and operations at risk of compromise,” the press release said.

    On Tuesday, the Associated Press (AP) reported that the FBI has been operating a small aircraft carrying video and cellphone surveillance technology “hidden behind fictitious companies that are fronts for the government.”

    The agency noted that the US Federal Aviation Administration is fully aware and supportive of the practice.

    FBI’s surveillance aircraft practice should come as no surprise, FBI Deputy Director Mark Giuliano argued in the statement, as the agency uses planes “to follow terrorists, spies, and serious criminals.”

    “We have an obligation to follow those people who want to hurt our country and its citizens, and we will continue to do so,” Giuliano added.

    The AP investigation found that in a recent 30-day period, the FBI flew its aircraft over “more than 30 cities in 11 states” across the United States. In less than six weeks from late April to the end of May, the news agency said it had identified more than 100 secret flights operating over major US cities and rural areas.

    Related:

    Former CIA Officer: FBI Surveillance Aircraft Program Unconstitutional
    FBI: Security Researcher Hacks Into Airplane Systems While on Flight
    Tags:
    data collection, aircraft, surveillance, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), United States
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