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CIA Worked With DOJ To Re-Purpose Foreign Surveillance Airborne Cell Tower Spoofers For Domestic Use

from the I-got-a-name-and-I-got-a-number-I-got-a-line-on-you dept

The CIA’s recent rebranding as Valhalla for US cyberwarriors notwithstanding, the agency’s general focus has been intelligence gathering on foreign governments, corporations and people. That it has often mistaken “torturing people into saying whatever they can to make it stop” for “intelligence gathering” isn’t necessarily germane to the following discussion, but it’s worth noting that the CIA is almost single-handedly responsible for destroying the term “extraordinary rendition” — a formerly innocuous (and complimentary) term previously used to highlight something like, say, Johnny Cash’s amazing cover of Soundgarden’s’ “Rusty Cage.” (That Cash’s two best covers are “Hurt” and “Rusty Cage” is not germane to the discussion of CIA torture programs, but what a coincidence!)

But the emphasis here is foreign. Which is why the following news makes so little sense.

The Central Intelligence Agency played a crucial role in helping the Justice Department develop technology that scans data from thousands of U.S. cellphones at a time, part of a secret high-tech alliance between the spy agency and domestic law enforcement, according to people familiar with the work.

The CIA and the U.S. Marshals Service, an agency of the Justice Department, developed technology to locate specific cellphones in the U.S. through an airborne device that mimics a cellphone tower, these people said.

“These people” are likely keeping both eyes on their backs at this point, considering this revelation sheds more light on two things both agencies would like to keep in permanent darkness: the CIA’s involvement in domestic surveillance and the US Marshals’ airborne “dirtboxes,” which are hoovering up tons of phone call info using high-flying IMSI catchers.

The planes fly from five US cities and cover “most of the US population,” according to the Wall Street Journal and its unnamed sources. The technology appears to have debuted overseas under the CIA’s auspices. Nothing about that fact is surprising or, indeed, of major concern in terms of US civil liberties (although likely not welcome news for any foreign citizens in the CIA’s coverage area). What is more surprising — or rather, disappointing — is that the DOJ saw the foreign surveillance tech deployed by the CIA and said, “We could really use this here. In the US. On our fellow Americans.”

Not only that, but if the CIA is involved in any significant way, there are some legal issues that need to be discussed.

The CIA has a long-standing prohibition that bars it from conducting most types of domestic operations, and officials at both the CIA and the Justice Department said they didn’t violate those rules.

Phew. [Wipes brow.] Oh. Wait. The DOJ utilizing CIA dirtboxes to surveill US citizens probably breaks some rules. (The courts will probably have to sort this out — and, unfortunately, there’s a chance they’ll find otherwise.) But that’s not what the DOJ is saying. It’s saying that the CIA doesn’t violate the “don’t conduct [most types] of domestic surveillance” rules. Which is probably true. It just hands of the tools of totalitarianism to the DOJ and the domestic side of the equation takes over. It’s wrong because it subverts the roles of both agencies but it’s technically right because the DOJ’s agencies do the actual surveillance — not the CIA. That’s how that works. Technically legal. But wrong in just about every other way.

It isn’t as though the DOJ just stopped by to ask about the CIA’s flying machines. It had a very active role in the creation of the domestic Mile High Spy Club.

For years, the U.S. Marshals’ Technical Operations Group worked with the CIA’s Office of Technical Collection to develop the technology. In the early days it was the CIA that provided the most resources, said the people familiar with the matter.

For now, it’s the unnamed “people” vs. the public front-mouths for various incestuously intertwined intelligence/law enforcement agencies. Last last year, the DOJ was asked to explain its flying cell tower spoofers, but the best defense it offered was, “Hey, at least it’s not the Section 215 program,” along with a half-assed Glomar (“neither confirm nor deny”) that admitted more than it withheld.

The CIA is likewise mostly silent on the matter, offering up only the weak defense that the CIA has given other stuff to domestic agencies and that’s all been perfectly legal. Likewise the DOJ… again with its “We’re not the NSA” assertions meant to make it look like Captain Fourth Amendment by comparison:

A Justice Department spokesman said Marshals Service techniques are “carried out consistent with federal law, and are subject to court approval.” The agency doesn’t conduct “domestic surveillance, intelligence gathering, or any type of bulk data collection,” the spokesman said, adding that it doesn’t gather any intelligence on behalf of U.S. spy agencies.

But it’s not just metadata or call records. The CIA-built, DOJ-deployed devices also listen in.

In 2005, the CIA gave the Marshals Service technology to conduct “silent stimulation” of those types of cellphones, both for identifying them and, with a court order, intercepting the communications, these people said.

So, according to the DOJ, it doesn’t participate in bulk data collection. But an untargeted device that flies overhead and forces all phones in range to submit to its advances isn’t anything but a bulk data collection. Sure, there may be an eventual target, but until that target is acquired, everything else gets swept up into the DOJ’s flying coffers. Even with “catch-and-release” — the least intrusive form of cell tower spoofing — innocent Americans are still at the mercy of the government as spoofers gather communications, cut off data usage and force all phones to the least technologically-advanced connection possible.

The DOJ’s excuses are horrible, especially in light of the surveillance tool’s origins. If the Wall Street Journal’s sources are correct, the DOJ re-deployment of foreign intelligence gathering tech makes it the Victor Kiam of domestic spookery: “We liked it so much, we used it on our own people!”

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Comments on “CIA Worked With DOJ To Re-Purpose Foreign Surveillance Airborne Cell Tower Spoofers For Domestic Use”

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That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Annnnd still no bottom to the rabbit hole.

We’ve secretly recorded everything about every person inside the US, and we haven’t caught 1 Congress critter doing anything wrong (that we would prosecute because why bribe them when you can just rattle off the mistresses phone number?).

I don’t think anyone actually knows everything that all of the agencies are up to, and that should scare everyone.
They lie to the people.
They lie to the media.
They lie to Congress.
They lie to those who are supposed to be providing oversight.
They lie to Judges (even the rubber stamp ones).

Slippery slope (there I said it, move on) is proven.
We gave up some rights to be safe, and they have gutted everything we thought we had.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Having a recording, and having a human look at the recording so that they know what is going on are two very different things. The problem with all this data collection is not that someone looks at what you are up to, but rather if the authorities take a dislike to you, they can go and look at you past to see what they can find to use against you.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Weak sauce

A Justice Department spokesman said Marshals Service techniques are “carried out consistent with federal law, and are subject to court approval.”

If the ongoing NSA scandal has taught us anything at all, it’s that just because a technique is technically “consistent with law” or “subject to court approval” doesn’t mean that the technique is acceptable, constitutional, or actually being subjected to anything remotely like judicial oversight.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Don't we deserve better?

Personally, if someone thinks I’m a moron and/or a sucker, I strongly prefer that they don’t pretend otherwise. On this point, I give a small amount of credit to the current administration. Prior administrations have thought of us as morons and suckers, but have tried their best to deceive us about their attitude. That’s just adding insult to injury.

Coyne Tibbets (profile) says:

Surveillance of U.S. citizens

Now just what I want to know is: Where y’all been?

All this heat over surveillance has not been about the three-letter agencies watching foreigners. It’s been about those agencies watching U.S. citizens, which is supposed to be illegal under the constitution.

– All the best technology they’ve built has been built to be used against U.S. citizens.
– All the exceptions to the law they’ve sought have been so they could watch U.S. citizens.
– The data they have collected has mostly been from surveillance on U.S. citizens.
– The legal techniques they’ve invented, like parallel construction, were developed to be applied against U.S. citizens.
– The torture they developed…well, I’m sure they intended to use it on U.S. citizens, but then the infernal politics got in the way.

It’s really not possible to tell if they give a rat’s whisker about watching any particular foreigner. But everything we’ve seen, that has raised a concern, demonstrates that their surveillance is primarily drected at U.S. citizens.

Why would anyone wonder, “why the following news makes so little sense.” It doesn’t make “little sense”; it makes perfect sense.

Anonymous Coward says:

Logic brings us to Puppetry

If we treat everyone in the world as if they are subject to our laws, and act upon that assumption by killing them through any means available, doesn’t it follow that everyone must therefor by a citizen and protected by the rights built into our very constitution? It says “All men” not all US citizens.

We imposed this rule of law onto the natives and immigrants alike, but have since spent the time twisted and gutting the rights inherent in that system.

Now we see foreigners targeted and killed by literal Monday night quarterbacks solely on their say. Once that became accepted, they upped the ante by doing the same for US citizens, so far outside of US soil at the time.

Next though why would drone strikes here be any different?

The mandate that allows these agencies to operate is based on their accepting the constraints built into law. They freely admit to ignoring this over and over and yet we still allow them to operate? Sounds like a puppet government to me.

Anonymous Coward says:

What I want out of each and every one of you is a hard-target search of every gas station, residence, warehouse, farmhouse, henhouse, outhouse and doghouse in that area. Checkpoints go up at fiftee… what’s that? A hospital? MRAPs? Motion towards his waistband?

Looks like we’re done here. Coffee and chocolate donuts with those little sprinkles for everybody!

Anonymous Coward says:

Among other things these things may look for dew weapons that work in the same frequency ranges and the signals and electronic signatures coming in and out. Seriously, the US is still at war and I am under attack every day.

War sucks and sometimes people around them just don’t notice people around them are being tortured and dying.

Capt. Gary Kassbaum says:

As if we haven’t got enough problems finding and discovering through our protective agencies radicalized Islamic nut-balls we have Psychotronic Weapons; which are insideous concealed weapons using concentrated EMF waves. These are in the hands of ‘moronic idiots’ reacting to ‘false positives’ . Do you know of a counterpart to the EUCACH in N.America, especially in Canada where I reside in the City of Toronto?

The State of Michigan has passed strict laws against the use of psychotronic weapons..You can buy a hand -held device for around $500 on the internet. Soon we’ll all need detectors agains’t such devices, as lethal as a hand held firearm. If you get a detector and find you’ve been targeted by a psychotronic device , follow that person as best as can be and get their lic. plate no.and or confront them and get them to make the first move so they can be charged with assault and make sure you see that he/she doesn’t drop the device or throw it away before the police come.

Anyone using such a device needs to be locked up and the key thrown away. The perpetrators(PERPS) could be rogue members of a government agency, which is why the new looming Canadian anti-terrorist Bill C-51 can create an ominous threat to our civil rights and protections. The action arms of the Masonic Order, Church of Scientology,Satanic Worshippers or most definitely the microchip Industry hit men don’t want people like me revealing their bullshit theory of control and reveal the micro-chipping infestation into the medical/psychiatric industries (with the blessings of the host gov’t administration).. Who knows how many people have died of brain tumors from these weapons; but closer to home…how could my good friend David Ayling; witness to the microchip removal 16 Aug 2012 , 9 years younger than I , die of a brain tumor in 2014 three(3) weeks later at Sunnybrook Hospital, Toronto, after playing tennis for 1.5 hrs?

Problem as I see it , he was into network marketing and often fell asleep in his car; a small older Honda parked outside Starbucks Coffee in Pickering thus undergoing prolonged exposure by someone non-chalantly standing by their own car nearby and aiming the psych weapon for a prolonged period of time at his poor head. I tried to warrn him but being a strong Christian Brother I guess he felt safe.

Anyone caught in the act and the results are detrimental or incapacitating should stand trial for attempted murder and a minimum sentence stiff of 15-20 years handed down. If the person dies, then it is 1st Degree Murder!….life in jail or in Ohio .. the death penalty! It’s such an insideous heinous crime that they should resurrect ‘Old Sparky’ from Florida as a travelling adjudicator of the sentence through the justice system. These PERP bastards are ruining this country, the USA and Europe and elsewhere and are silently killing people (forced brain tumors) at a thousand times more frequently than visible news making terrorist acts. For what?? CONTROL. Like you said: let’s find’m and bring them to justice and shame. Let Me Know if You Agree.

Anonymous Coward says:

This has been just one small part of a long-term trend in the US, that the fine line that has traditionally separated warfare from domestic law enforcement has been substantially eroded in recent years. Small-town cops are now armed and trained (and unsurprisingly, act) as combat soldiers. Federal agencies, even those not involved with law enforcement of any kind, now have their own in-house armed militias. The NSA has been turned into a domestic spying operation.

Therefore, it’s not surprising that the CIA is now getting into the domestic spying business, teaming up with another federal agency in order to evade rules that specifically bar the CIA from engaging in any sort of domestic spy operations.

It’s ironic that the country that spent so much trying to keep Nazism, Fascism, and Communism from taking over the world is now slowly turning into a toxic combination of all three.

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