Texas National Guard Latest Agency To Be Discovered Operating Flying Cell Tower Spoofers

from the sky-spies dept

More evidence of high-flying surveillance has been uncovered by public records requests. The Texas Observer reports it has obtained documents showing local National Guard units are in possession of airborne IMSI catchers.

The Texas National Guard last year spent more than $373,000 to install controversial cellphone eavesdropping devices in secretive surveillance aircraft.

Maryland-based Digital Receiver Technology Inc., or DRT, installed two of its DRT 1301C “portable receiver systems” in National Guard aircraft in partnership with the Drug Enforcement Administration, according to a contract between the Texas National Guard and the company. The contract states that the dirt boxes, as they’re often called after the company’s acronym, are for “investigative case analytical support” in counternarcotics operations and were purchased using state drug-asset forfeiture money.

These aren't the first DRT boxes to be exposed via public records requests. Law enforcement agencies in Chicago and Los Angeles are also deploying these surveillance devices -- with minimal oversight and no public discussion prior to deployment. The same goes for the US Marshals Service, which has been flying its DRT boxes for a few years now with zero transparency or public oversight.

The same goes for the National Guard in Texas. There doesn't seem to be any supporting documentation suggesting any public consultation in any form before acquisition and deployment. Not only that, but there's nothing in the documents obtained that clarifies what legal authority permits National Guard use of flying cell tower spoofers.

[T]he Texas National Guard is a military force under the governor’s command, not law enforcement. It’s unclear under what legal authorities the State Guard would be operating to conduct electronic eavesdropping. In 2015, the Justice Department issued guidelines for federal law enforcement agencies requiring that a probable cause warrant be obtained from a judge before using such technology. The Texas National Guard refused to explain to the Observer what steps, if any, it takes to secure a warrant prior to deploying the devices, or where the dirt boxes are being used.

No one knows what guidance the National Guard is operating under, much less what it does with all the cell phone data it hoovers up. It's a black hole and the National Guard refuses to discuss it. While it's undoubtedly true some law enforcement methods need to be kept under wraps, this doesn't mean agencies -- especially those like the National Guard which only play a supporting role in some law enforcement activities -- should deploy mass surveillance tools without some public discussion. Concerns definitely need to be addressed when a military agency gets into the domestic law enforcement business.


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Nov 2017 @ 8:02pm

    Amazing what taxes can buy.

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

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 14 Nov 2017 @ 10:40pm

    Assume the worst and you will rarely be disappointed

    The Texas National Guard refused to explain to the Observer what steps, if any, it takes to secure a warrant prior to deploying the devices, or where the dirt boxes are being used.

    In which case the default assumption should be that they don't take any steps to secure a warrant prior to use, the information collected is shared un-minimized with anyone that comes asking, and the 'dirt boxes' are being used everywhere and as often as physically possible.

    They are of course welcome to provide evidence to counter these assumptions, but until that happens it would seem that the safest way forward is to assume the absolute worst and go from there.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 15 Nov 2017 @ 4:19am

      Re: Assume the worst and you will rarely be disappointed

      In which case the default assumption should be that they don't take any steps to secure a warrant prior to use

      As I understand it, the military isn't subject to civilian law. That's one of the reasons the government likes using them for law enforcement when they can get away with it.

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

      • icon
        Vidiot (profile), 15 Nov 2017 @ 5:00am

        Re: Re: Assume the worst and you will rarely be disappointed

        Here's an idea: the DEA can buy Stingray-equipped Cessnas for Native American tribes, and train pilots to fly in circles. Since the tribes aren't apparently subject to US laws, no need to worry about those pesky warrants...

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 15 Nov 2017 @ 6:33am

        Posse Comitatus

        {} " government likes using them for law enforcement..."


        yeah, that's the big issue here -- using the military for domestic policing

        American federal/state/local & military "forces" are all morphing into one giant central-government police agency. The Constitution and Bill of Rights were early casualties.

        Most credit goes to the inane government Drug War -- which has failed spectacularly, but somehow never enlightens crusading government drug warriors

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 15 Nov 2017 @ 6:44am

          Re: Posse Comitatus

          "If Tyranny and Oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy."

          ~Madison (unsourced)

          Regardless of who said it, this is a fundamental and universal truth. The best way to get people to put the shackles of tyranny on themselves is for a government to tell them that they will protect them from something... enemy nations(military industrial complex), businesses (regulation), criminal elements (direct military/militarized police). The people will freely give away their liberty and those willing to resist will be ridiculed by the majority.

          TD = Majority

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

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 15 Nov 2017 @ 9:23am

            Re: Re: Posse Comitatus

            You sounded intelligent right up to that last sentence. I'd give you a gold star but you blew it. Sorry.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 15 Nov 2017 @ 10:06am

        Re: Re: Assume the worst and you will rarely be disappointed

        "As I understand it, the military isn't subject to civilian law."

        Pretty sure you're wrong on that. They might get exceptions in certain areas, and they might get certain exceptions in time of war, but there's no blanket exemption from the Constitution. That's one reason the NSA, which is military, is only supposed to be spying on foreign entities.

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 15 Nov 2017 @ 11:21am

          Re: Re: Re: Assume the worst and you will rarely be disappointed

          exceptions in time of war

          You never heard of the "war on drugs"?

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 15 Nov 2017 @ 11:34am

          Re: Re: Re: Assume the worst and you will rarely be disappointed

          Pretty sure you're wrong on that.

          Civilian law enforcement can't even enter most military installations without permission. If you think your local yokel cops have authority over the military or, for example, can go seize military convoys rolling down the highway (like they can civilians) you are very sadly mistaken.

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

        • icon
          Bergman (profile), 16 Nov 2017 @ 2:55am

          Re: Re: Re: Assume the worst and you will rarely be disappointed

          The military has its own body of laws, that civilians are not subject to. In exchange, the military is generally exempt from civilian laws, unless their military laws defer to civilian law in that area -- a good example is state age of sexual consent laws.

          But the Constitution is not civilian law, and the military is still subject to it -- it cannot be anything other than subject to it, since the Constitution is what confers the authority to have a military at all upon the government.

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

      • icon
        Bergman (profile), 16 Nov 2017 @ 2:53am

        Re: Re: Assume the worst and you will rarely be disappointed

        Yes, the military is not subject to civilian law, but they are subject to military law -- among the military laws the military is subject to is the fact that engaging in law enforcement activity upon civilians carries a sentence of two years in military prison followed by a dishonorable discharge.

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

    • icon
      Aaron Walkhouse (profile), 15 Nov 2017 @ 4:40am

      It's military…

      …and a Coast Guard plane is typically patrolling offshore.

      That's beyond domestic jurisdiction both legally and physically.

      While they're way out there no warrant is needed and as they
      track a plane or boat back into shore it's legally a pursuit.

      Once they do their thing and suspects touch shore they can
      hold on until DEA or local police take over active pursuit.

      They don't want to talk about that because smugglers might
      learn to shut cell and sat phones off when they start engines.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 15 Nov 2017 @ 6:37am

        Re: It's military…

        "That's beyond domestic jurisdiction both legally and physically."

        Not if they are US Citizens. The Constitution does not establish that a Citizen is only protected by the Constitution if they are within a defined border. All Citizens have constitutional rights when dealing with the US government regardless of their physical location.

        It is sad that so many people seem to know so little while they speak as though they are in the know about these things.

        If the constitution does not grant a power, then the government does not have it. If the constitution describes a limit then the government is not to trod upon it. Since the citizens are this ignorant, why is everyone acting concerned when the government abuses its authority?

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 15 Nov 2017 @ 9:25am

          Re: Re: It's military…

          >It is sad that so many people seem to know so little while they speak as though they are in the know about these things.

          >If the constitution does not grant a power, then the government does not have it.

          Pot, this is Kettle. Kettle? Pot.

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

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 15 Nov 2017 @ 12:13pm

            Re: Re: Re: It's military…

            If you don't like facts, not sure what else to tell you.

            You might want to stop whining about people abusing authority in regards to a document you never read.

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

        • icon
          Aaron Walkhouse (profile), 15 Nov 2017 @ 9:16pm

          It doesn't matter if they are citizens…

          …because the pursuers are soldiers in a military unit carrying
          out military missions hundreds of miles away from those borders,
          and people they find and pursue are not identified as citizens
          of any nation until they are arrested and brought into custody.

          And no; no time is wasted on identification during an active
          pursuit beyond what is necessary to ensure capture and arrest.
          It is not legally required and could incur unnecessary risk.

          I am in a good position to know, having worn a uniform myself.
          Relative jurisdictions of military and civilian law is central to
          Basic and General Military Training in all established and legally
          mature military organizations. This is especially true for nations
          which tend to lead most international peacekeeping missions.

          Constitutional law is a foundation, not an absolute ruling.
          Reasonable limits apply to all constitutional rights and
          all courts are tasked with keeping those limits in order.

          Even if suspects later turn out to be American, tracking and
          pursuit in international waters during the act of smuggling
          remains legal and unassailable in court; partly because
          they are not yet identified and mostly because the action
          was all during meticulously documented enforcement against
          the active commission of felonies and violations of international
          maritime law. ‌ Show any case that resulted in a smuggler
          getting off for surveillance if you claim expertise. ‌ ‌ ;]

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

      • icon
        Bergman (profile), 16 Nov 2017 @ 3:03am

        Re: It's military…

        You're mistaken about no warrants being required.

        Federal law extends to anywhere a US citizen is standing, and when a citizen returns to the US they are criminally liable for any violations of US law they committed while outside of the US. The classic example of this is sex-tourism to places like Thailand -- any sex acts committed overseas that are illegal under US law can be prosecuted when the citizen returns home.

        Title 18, Section 241 makes it a criminal act for two or more people to violate any statutory, civil or constitutional right under color of law within the borders of the US and its territories. Title 18, Section 242 makes it a crime for an individual to violate rights under color of law.

        Sections 241 and 242 were written at the same time by the same people, and 242 has no range limit -- if someone subject to US law commits a color of law rights violation anywhere (on the planet, in orbit, on mars, anywhere) then they have violated Section 242. If the person or persons committing the rights violation do it while in possession of a dangerous weapon -- which does not need to be a firearm, since tasers and batons are also dangerous weapons -- then federal court doctrine considers that to be with use of a dangerous weapon, even if the victim never sees the weapon during the crime.

        If the Coast Guard is doing something that requires a warrant without one, then they have committed at least one felony if there is so much as a 3 inch knife on board whatever vehicle they are using.

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

        • icon
          Aaron Walkhouse (profile), 16 Nov 2017 @ 4:31pm

          Don't forget the jurisdictions involved.

          On a military mission, outside the country, involving
          unidentified suspects during the commission of a crime,
          and using military equipment designed for precisely that
          purpose; warrants are irrelevant because they don't exist
          under that legal jurisdiction. ‌ It's a military search.

          Don't forget that the DRT box is designed for this usage and
          no court anywhere in the world has ever challenged field use
          of field tech by the U.S. military for military operations.

          What you, in effect, are saying is that if the U.S. tracked
          and then droned a terrorist while he was shooting at troops
          or planting bombs, it would become illegal after the fact if
          that corpse is later found to be an American terror tourist.

          Like I said earlier; show any court case which takes away
          a legitimate use of tracking tech by the Coast Guard on patrol.
          It hasn't happened never will because THAT use by THOSE
          personnel in THAT jurisdiction for THAT purpose is legal.
          You must overcome THOSE and all three THATs to prevail in court,
          which is the only venue for balancing law under the Constitution.

          Constitutional law is a foundation, NOT AN ABSOLUTE RULING.
          Reasonable limits apply to all constitutional rights and
          all courts are tasked with keeping those limits in order.
          The Constitution exists offshore but does not apply to this.

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

  • identicon
    spastic idiots, 15 Nov 2017 @ 4:05am

    total twerps

    These people are the most horrible offensive crap and not actually human. They are the opposite of human and they are animals all of them. We need to find them and take them out now. stop procrastinating, take them out now all of them the idiots.

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

  • icon
    Bergman (profile), 15 Nov 2017 @ 4:49am

    The irony

    Texas National Guardsmen, like all National Guardsmen, swear an oath to defend the Constitution against both foreign and domestic enemies.

    But what would a domestic enemy look like? Would it be a 'private' militia that adheres strictly to the Constitution? Or would it be a state National Guard that pretends it does not exist?

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

    • identicon
      Mason Wheeler, 15 Nov 2017 @ 8:32am

      Re: The irony

      > a 'private' militia that adheres strictly to the Constitution

      There is no such thing, as the Constitution defines the President as commander-in-chief of the US military. If they're operating as a militia outside of the chain of command, they're already not adhering to the Constitution.

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

      • icon
        Bergman (profile), 16 Nov 2017 @ 3:06am

        Re: Re: The irony

        Has the President ever tried giving an order to such a militia? I can't find any record of any such incident since the Whiskey Rebellion.

        Can a US Navy captain give orders to an Air Force lieutenant when the Air Force officer is not aboard the captain's ship? Different chains of command are different chains of command.

        Or are you claiming that the inactive militia isn't REALLY the militia, despite the definitions in the Constitution and the Militia Acts?

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

    • identicon
      Wendy Cockcroft, 16 Nov 2017 @ 6:04am

      Re: The irony

      Domestic enemies include protesters, it seems: http://www.ohiohistorycentral.org/w/Kent_State_Shootings

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Nov 2017 @ 5:21am

    Modern War

    Putin's army was/is utilizing the cell network to locate Ukrainian fighters they want to eradicate.

    If a war ever broke out on US soil I would expect our defenders to be able to locate enemies that might be using the cell network to communicate. Kinda hard for them to do so if they don't have the equipment or training to do so.

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

  • icon
    Groaker (profile), 15 Nov 2017 @ 5:25am

    Who are Domestic Enemies?

    "The phrase 'Domestic Enemy' means what I want it to mean, nothing more, nothing else."

    Humpty Dumpty (Donald Trumpty)

    With apologies to Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll.

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

  • icon
    DH's Love Child (profile), 15 Nov 2017 @ 6:18am

    Seems fitting..

    Concerns definitely need to be addressed when a military agency gets into the domestic law enforcement business

    Seeing as law enforcement is in the military business, I imagine the military wants a little tit for tat.....

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

    • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 15 Nov 2017 @ 6:52am

      Re: Seems fitting..

      Return of "DH's Love Child" after THIRTY-THREE months!

      445 comments total, but only ONE in 2015, then TWO in 2014, so that's ONE comment average each of last four years.

      So I have you listed as RIP, a Resting Internet Personage.

      You started out in 2009 using "choirkurt".

      But hey, just ignore all such anomalies here at Techdirt! This isn't a news site, it's entertainment.

      Anyway, welcome back! Where ya been? Care to 'splain why didn't comment for so long?

      Return of "DH's Love Child" after THIRTY-THREE months!

      445 comments total, but only ONE in 2015, then TWO in 2014, so that's ONE comment average each of last four years.

      So I have you listed as RIP, a Resting Internet Personage.

      You started out in 2009 using "choirkurt".

      But hey, just ignore all such anomalies here at Techdirt! This isn't a news site, it's entertainment.

      Anyway, welcome back! Where ya been? Care to 'splain why didn't comment for so long?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Nov 2017 @ 6:33am

    From what is being posted:

    If one uses a digital device one should assume every police and non-police organization in or out of government is actively monitoring, recording, and storing all digital communication.

    In short one should that one is speaking not to a cop when using any digital device but to ALL police, prosecutors, and judicial official world among whom there is a small delinquent group that believes it is their moral and sacred to firmly place anyone who post anything they disagree with in a place the sun does not shine or giving them a permanent view of the bottom side of daises.

    To do otherwise has the potential to place oneself to be in for a very big rude surprise.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Nov 2017 @ 6:52am

    Robbed at badge point and stripped of privacy - oh wait its part of the constitution free zone so its ok.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Nov 2017 @ 9:23am

    Probably (hopefully) just wasting money and space

    The National Guard has tanks too. Who knows why. They don't use them except when they play weekend warrior on their training drills. This is probably more of the same. They would be better off spending more on disaster recovery tools (snowplows, temporary shelters, etc.) and less on armored Humvees.

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

  • identicon
    GEMont, 15 Nov 2017 @ 9:27am

    A license to do as we fucking well please.

    Man, its awesome what you can do once you've rewritten that pesky Constitution thing in secret, "for the children", and can pretend that you're fighting a real war and thereby gain all the great war-time perks that scenario allows.

    Sure do hope the US population - we call them the "adversary" now - never catches on to the secret new laws that have been in place since 911. It would really cramp our style if law enforcement and the military had to go back to the old pre-911 constitutional laws.

    As long as everyone in America is legally considered to be an enemy combatant, we can do just about anything we want to them - shoot 'em, kill their pets, steal their shit - and its all 100% completely legal and penalty-free.

    But lets face it, the chances of the US public catching on are slim, and the likelihood of them actually doing anything about it if they did catch on, are now pretty much non-existent, since legally, we can just ignore their bitching.

    What a great time to be alive; and be a LEO, in America.

    ---

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

  • identicon
    JLofty, 15 Nov 2017 @ 10:26am

    ???!???

    Wtf does the National Guard need IMSI devices for ANYWAY??
    Really, what (legit) purpose is THAT serving?

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

  • identicon
    SandCrab, 15 Nov 2017 @ 1:20pm

    posse comitatus and martial law

    Nobody is above the law. Martial Law never suspends the US Constitution as amended. Martial Law is always under civil control. Martial Law can only be imposed when posse comitatus is unable to keep the peace. Martial Law can only exist to restore posse comitatus. Persons serving in the militia can be held accountable. The Declaration of Independence can be rebooted.

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

  • identicon
    Châu, 15 Nov 2017 @ 3:02pm

    How hard build?

    How hard build this equipment? Build open source version for every person can use?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Nov 2017 @ 8:25pm

    "Warrants! Warrants! Warrants!" MyNameHere spat angrily. "It's all about warrants with you filthy pirates, isn't it?"

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


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