FBI: Hurricane Katrina Made It Clear We Just Don't Have Enough Stingray Devices

from the because-weather dept

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the federal government stepped up to assure the nation that as horrifically damaging as the storm was, we would all come out of it OK.*

*Offer does not apply to affected residents of New Orleans.

President Bush let us know that FEMA head "Brownie" (born Michael D. Brown) was doing a "heckuva job" botching the government's response. The New Orleans Police Department worked hard to secure critical infrastructure, going so far as to show up in civilian clothes, armed with unapproved weapons. And the FBI, which sent its people to assist in search and rescue operations and to help curtail post-storm looting, made sure an unprecedented tragedy wouldn't go to waste.

MuckRock's Shawn Musgrave points out that, hidden among the 5,000 heavily redacted pages it received in April in "response" to its FBI-Stingray query, the agency's Katrina experience somehow made Stingray acquisition a priority.

A year later, as part of post-Katrina review, the FBI’s WITT requested funding for additional equipment from Harris Corporation, which manufactures the StingRay line of cell phone trackers. Two drafts of the same memo (draft 1) and (draft 2) from July 2006, each with competing redactions, together weave a partial glimpse of WITT’s justification.

[...]

“In the summer of 2005, the U.S. Gulf Coast bore the brunt of several hurricanes, including Hurricane Katrina which severely degraded the capabilities of the [redacted],” the memo reads in part. Subsequent, heavily redacted sentences suggest that the storm crippled the FBI’s capacity to conduct certain types of cell phone tracking operations via equipment on-hand at the time of landfall.




Further details are redacted, but it's clear the diminished capabilities pushed IMSI catchers to the front of the acquisition queue. The accompanying purchase order was designated "priority." Previous purchases had only been declared "routine."

The redactions make it impossible to determine why exactly the agency felt the acquisition of more cellphone-tracking technology was a must post-Katrina. Perhaps the agency needed hardware upgrades to existing equipment that functioned in a less-than-ideal manner when local cell infrastructure suffered damage. Maybe it lent some devices to the New Orleans PD and was having trouble getting them back. Maybe it just wanted more IMSI catchers. No matter the stated reason, it can safely be assumed that post-act of God requisition processes receive less scrutiny than those made during times of relative peace and safety. Terrorism and drug dealing may have been off the table in terms of justifications, but any good government agency knows "national disaster" is spelled "O-P-P-O-R-T-U-N-I-T-Y." The FBI is no exception.


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Aug 2015 @ 3:18pm

    When a disaster cannot be had naturally, they naturally create one to exploit.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Sheogorath (profile), 31 Aug 2015 @ 3:18pm

    The New Orleans Police Department worked hard to secure critical infrastructure, going so far as to show up in civilian clothes, armed with unapproved weapons.
    You know, it wouldn't have surprised me if that had instead led to the greatest amount of LEOs killed at one time by civilians as people sought to protect themselves from these 'looters'.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 1 Sep 2015 @ 6:32am

      Re:

      If I were sitting on a jury I would acquit every person charged with killing a police officer in that situation.

      Officers of the law must always be clearly distinguishable from regular citizens. I you want to dress up like a heavily armed thug instead and get your bollocks shot off because a scared and confused citizen thought you meant harm, I got your sign right here!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    dfed (profile), 31 Aug 2015 @ 3:29pm

    M-O-O-N that spells FBI.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward, 31 Aug 2015 @ 3:41pm

    Cop's Rights

    The only time I went to New Orleans was the year the police were on strike (whatever year that was). The National Guard had 4-6 man posts every other block,but even that did not stop petty crime (we left our wallets at home but something rectangular was in my back pocket, which some young person decided to try for, and lost). That public servants think they can hold up a community, or nation, is absolutely despicable.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 1 Sep 2015 @ 6:35am

      Re: Cop's Rights

      That public servants think they can hold up a community, or nation, is absolutely despicable.

      It is, but it has been happening since the first time another man sought to rule over the other. The people looking to obtain power are the ones that should not have it.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Aug 2015 @ 4:04pm

    I wonder how many times these Stingrays, which were paid for by a grant designed to fight terrorism, were successfully used in a case of terrorism. I wonder what percentage of stingray use involved cases with no terrorism charges. I wonder what the consequences are for not using a
    U.S. Govt grant based on the terms of that grant.

    Oh, I forgot, it's nothing because nobody in the government gives a fuck about accountability and integrity!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      David, 1 Sep 2015 @ 2:36am

      Re:

      I wonder how many times these Stingrays, which were paid for by a grant designed to fight terrorism, were successfully used in a case of terrorism.

      Do you also complain when the publicly financed NASA develops technology that's useful for more than just space travel?

      IMSI catchers on petty crime are the teflon pan of law enforcement.

      Now of course most uses of teflon pans are not straightforward breaches of constitutional guarantees.

      But then you argued misappropriation of funds because the IMSI catchers proved to be useful for more than just catching terrists. Why let them go to waste?

      I mean, other than it's illegal and a fundamental violation of the means permitted in the government's job description?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Goyo (profile), 1 Sep 2015 @ 3:49am

        Re: Re:

        Nope. It is like the NASA being granted funds to buy a bunch of astronaut helmets for space travel and then using them as waste baskets. It looks like a misuse of funds, no matter how suitable the astronaut helmets are as waste baskets.

        If the IMSI are useful to catch terrorists they do not need to go to waste. Just use them to catch the damn terrorists.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          David, 1 Sep 2015 @ 5:55am

          Re: Re: Re:

          What is the NASA supposed to do with ten thousands of astronaut helmets? Let them go to waste rather than let waste go to them?

          There are not enough terrorists around for all the IMSI catchers. Heck, there are not enough warrants around for all the IMSI catchers, particularly without bullshitting the judges.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            Goyo (profile), 3 Sep 2015 @ 12:16am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            "What is the NASA supposed to do with ten thousands of astronaut helmets"
            Space travel, as stated when the money was asked for and granted. If they wanted helmets to use as wastebaskets, that's what they should have asked for.

            "There are not enough terrorists around for all the IMSI catchers."
            Then they should not have bought so many ISMI catchers in the first place. At least not with money granted for antiterrorist fight. And doing so still looks to me as a misuse of funds.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Aug 2015 @ 4:27pm

    My guess?

    They found that with the corporate cell towers off the air, their Stingrays didn't have anyone to hand off to other than other stingrays.

    Thanks, FBI, for your ad-hoc cell phone connectivity!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Coyne Tibbets (profile), 31 Aug 2015 @ 4:30pm

    Hurricane Katrina is the perfect choice

    Hurricane Katrina was a terrorist, you know.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Aug 2015 @ 4:42pm

    Hey all you hungry destitute people ....
    come on over here and have nice stingray device for dinner.

    Yummmmmy stuff

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Peter Nelson, 31 Aug 2015 @ 4:45pm

    Well - they were obviously looking for the guy responsible...

    ... for the hurricane. And weren't able to find him. So they need more capacity/capability. What's not to understand?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      You are being watched (profile), 31 Aug 2015 @ 6:14pm

      Re: Well - they were obviously looking for the guy responsible...

      His hiding level is better than Osama Bin Laden! We at least knew his name right from the get go...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Just A. Fool, 3 Sep 2015 @ 2:40pm

      Re: Well - they were obviously looking for the guy responsible...

      Why couldn't they be used to locate people in trouble? A cell phone is a cell phone, and if there is one under that pile of debris, there might just be a person with it, and they might still be alive. If we have the tech to locate victims of disaster faster, don't we have an obligation to?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Aug 2015 @ 8:12pm

    I knew a guy there. Lost his mom and sister. His dad lost his foot breaking it jumping into the water and snapping ot on something. Calling for help from cops who stole a hummer splashing around in the water joyriding almost brought a beat down on them instead of a trip to emerg which would have saved the foot. Busses were high jacked and either you paid to get on or put out in a gang bang. Katrina only taught how bad society gets instead how society comes together.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 31 Aug 2015 @ 10:07pm

      Re:

      Not everywhere reacted the same. I was on the MS Gulf Coast when Katrina hit. The storm destroyed nearly everything in some places, but we got our shit together and helped each other fix things. It helps that government corruption didn't screw us all over.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    icon
    Gark1991 (profile), 31 Aug 2015 @ 9:15pm

    Obat Tradisional Benjolan Di Dada

    Solusi Obat Tradisional Benjolan Di Dada dengan menggunakan ektrak kulit manggis dan daun sirsak yang sudah terbukti dan teruji ampuh.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Paul Harris, 1 Sep 2015 @ 12:21am

    Hurricane Katrina

    Very poignant as I was a California tourist stuck in the Superdome during Katrina.

    Paul Harris, Author, Diary From the Dome Reflections On Fear and Privilege During Katrina

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    David, 1 Sep 2015 @ 1:10am

    Well, not much of a surprise here

    It's pretty much established that law enforcement agencies illegally employ IMSI catchers for getting leads to petty crime then pursued by parallel construction.

    Katrina occasioned a lot of petty crime.

    So the application is rather more than less expected.

    The interesting question rather is how high up the rationale "we need more money for illegal operations" carries weight. Because that's the level where you need to start pruning in order to bring back law enforcement into honoring constitutional restraints.

    I suspect that it's pretty damn high up.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Sep 2015 @ 3:35am

    Has anybody heard something from the telcos regarding stingray usage?
    I guess they are afraid of national security arguments and bow before law enforcement agencies but perhaps same penny pinchers have seen the good sight of this.
    If the government is providing "some" cell coverage they can save money on improving their real networks.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 1 Sep 2015 @ 4:38am

    Hmm, maybe these devices can act as temporary cell towers and replace damaged infra-structure. In any case, the US has done a job that's quite similar to what I see in much less developed/prepared countries (including mine). That's somewhat reassuring, if the biggest economy in the world can't do it right so it must be that hard, no?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    DannyB (profile), 1 Sep 2015 @ 5:48am

    The FBI needs this to do their job

    The FBI needs more Stingray devices in order to track down the person responsible for causing Katrina.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      David, 1 Sep 2015 @ 6:00am

      Re: The FBI needs this to do their job

      Well, the U.S. public is known to be one of the worst contributors to the manmade components of global warming, so it's rather natural to spy on the U.S. public in order to track down the person responsible for causing Katrina.

      They'll probably track down via telephone transcriptions some guy who repeatedly left the air condition running with open windows and sue him for a few cool billions and multiple counts of manslaughter.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Mason Wheeler (profile), 1 Sep 2015 @ 7:24am

    You know, I've never understood New Orleans.

    I mean, building a coastal city below sea level is obviously not such a bright idea in the first place, especially when you're right in the middle of hurricane territory. But they got lucky for a while.

    When the inevitable finally happened, amid environmental and political circumstances that guarantee that, for the near future at least, the sea level will keep rising and hurricanes will get worse, that really should have been a wake-up call. But did they listen?

    Of course not. These are people who live on the coast, below sea level, in hurricane territory! So obviously they do the dumbest thing possible: they rebuild.

    Kinda makes me wonder what it will take for them to actually get the message: that's a really stupid place to live, and it ought to be abandoned before more tragedies strike.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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