Stingray Documents Show Law Enforcement Using 'Terrorism' To Obtain Equipment To Fight Regular Crime

from the because-WMDs-but-here's-a-low-level-drug-dealer-we-busted dept

Scott Ainslie at MuckRock has pried loose a few more Stingray documents with a FOIA request. What was requested were contractual documents, which seem to be something law enforcement agencies feel more comfortable with releasing. Anything pertaining to the actual use of Stingray devices still remains heavily shrouded, thanks in no small part to the intercession of the federal government.

Still, there is some useful information to be gleaned from the responsive documents, not the least of which is the fact that the DHS will happily fund local law enforcement's surveillance technology if they cross themselves and say the word "terrorism" three time during the requisition process.

The entire purchase is itemized on the request form under "Homeland Security." Specifics are redacted, not only on the purchase order, but also the letter from the governor's office signing off on the acquisition. But a few details manage to escape the black marker. The letter from the governor's office notes that this is no normal purchase.

The Illinois State Police has issued a request for a Procurement Code exception in order to covertly purchase [redacted] from Harris Corporation for conducting covert investigations. This exception is requested so that the Illinois State Police may purchase components directly from the vendor and decrease the possibility of sensitive information being disseminated inappropriately.
And this bit of sloppy redaction allows part of what must be a very ominous sentence to be revealed:


If you can't make it out, the last three words of the redaction are "weapons of mass destruction." The letter also confirms that the purchase is funded by a DHS grant.

As is the case when agencies reluctantly provide responsive documents, many of the documents look like they were scanned in by a poorly-trained monkey with an inner ear disorder, while others are apparently scans of tenth-generation copies made by the ancient copier kept around past the point of usefulness solely for responding to FOIA requests. This helps keep much of the text from being searchable, and in some cases early on, even legible.

Other points of interest include wording in the Harris contract. As has been pointed out before, Harris ties law enforcement up with non-disclosure agreements that (supposedly) prevent them from ever revealing information like this or, indeed, seeking warrants before using the equipment. Things may have changed since 2008 (when this requisition was completed), but the wording here doesn't seem to be nearly as extreme as the interpretation provided by law enforcement agencies.
A. Publicity. Neither party will, without the prior written consent of the other party: (a) make any news release, public announcement, denial or confirmation of this Agreement or its subject matter, or (b) in any manner advertise or publish the fact of their Agreement.
This contractual language seems rather minimal as compared to what has surfaced more recently.
"The Harris (REDACTED) equipment is proprietary and used for surveillance missions," the agreement reads. "Its capabilities can only be discussed with sworn law enforcement officers, the military or federal government. This equipment's capabilities are not for public knowledge and are protected under non-disclosure agreements as well as Title 18 USC 2512."
Apparently, Harris felt added restrictions were necessary to keep the public from learning about the technology public servants were deploying against them.

This Stingray was obtained in the fall of 2008, and it appears to be the only one the Illinois State Police own. But there are documents from 2006 and 2007 showing warranty replacements and repairs to existing Harris equipment, but most likely not a cell tower spoofer.

Then there's this remarkable paragraph that's included in the letter justifying redactions, which is a masterwork of unchecked fear:
Release of the information requested would endanger the life or physical safety of law enforcement personnel. Police officers, as well as the valuable and dedicated support personnel who work with them, face unknown and unpredictable dangers every day. Recent and unpredictable attacks on police officers and other criminal justice employees and their families point to an alarming trend in violence targeted directly at those persons simply because they represent law and order. Examples of violence toward law enforcement, criminal justice personnel and their families include: the shootout with a suspect in California armed with an AK47 on September 11, 2011; The murder of Maywood Police Officer Tom Wood as he had finished his shift in October 2006; Violence has not only been directed toward police officers. Damon Daniels was killed November 13, 2004 during a home-invasion robbery at the home he shared with his mother, Gery Gilbert, a secretary for the Oakland, California Police Department. In Texas, Kaufman County District Attorney Mike McLelland, his wife Cynthia, and Assistant District Attorney Mark Hasse were murdered by former Justice of the Peace Eric Williams in purported retaliation for prosecution of Williams for theft, which resulted in Williams losing his position as Justice of the Peace. Additionally, in April 2013, two members of a white supremacist prison gang were arrested for the murder of Colorado Department of Corrections head Tom Clements. Finally, consider the murder of the husband and mother of Judge Joan Lefkow. The suspect in that case, Bart Ross, was upset with Judge Lefkow because of an adverse ruling in a medical malpractice case. These are just a few incidents of violence directed at police officers, criminal justice system employees and their families.
There's no real trend here. Law enforcement is safer than it's been in 50 years. The only thing "alarming" is that the state police are using a highly-subjective fear to make supposedly "objective" redactions -- ones that weigh the public interest rather than just a handful of unrelated events scattered over a decade.

The most notable aspect of the documents is what it confirms: that law enforcement agencies are leveraging terrorism fears to acquire pervasive surveillance technology (that was initially developed for use in war zones) -- and that the DHS is more than happy to oblige them by funding the purchases. This intertwining of law enforcement and national security explains the federal government's intercession in Freedom of Information denials.

[Postscript: bonus points for anyone who can figure out why a regular DUI bust police report was included in the responsive documents (embedded below).]




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  1. icon
    Mason Wheeler (profile), 20 Jun 2014 @ 1:10pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Probably best not to compare the numbers...

    If cops are so afraid of having their actions being visible, then they shouldn't be cops.

    I don't think it's "their actions being visible" they're afraid of; it's having their actions completely misrepresented, taken out of context, and causing worse problems.

    A video recording is a great thing for showing what actually happened, except that it only shows what the camera was pointing at while it was running. If you present Act 2 like it was the entire play... well, just look at the Rodney King riots for one completely non-hypothetical example of what can (and did!) go wrong.

    If you were a cop, would you want to end up at the center of another mess like that one?

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