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Communications Crime Government

DHS Deployed Plane Above San Bernardino To Scoop Up All Phone Calls After Attack (dailymail.co.uk) 147

schwit1 writes: Federal investigators looking into the San Bernardino massacre deployed a spy plane overhead after the attacks in an apparent attempt to find additional suspects. The Department of Homeland Security is said to have put up the single engine craft over the California city and ordered it to make repeated circles overhead. The craft would likely have been equipped with Dirtbox technology which can scan tens of thousands of phones in one go to identify suspects. The report adds to the intrigue about whether or not there were accomplices in the San Bernardino attacks, which took place last Wednesday and were the worst terrorist attack on American soil since 9/11.
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DHS Deployed Plane Above San Bernardino To Scoop Up All Phone Calls After Attack

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  • by Kohath ( 38547 ) on Saturday December 12, 2015 @04:41PM (#51106653)

    Searching to see if there are more terrorists engaged in a coordinated attack? Seems like a reasonable and responsible thing to do.

    • by Etcetera ( 14711 ) on Saturday December 12, 2015 @05:01PM (#51106737) Homepage

      Searching to see if there are more terrorists engaged in a coordinated attack? Seems like a reasonable and responsible thing to do.

      Yeah, the notion that this is a bad thing to do *during* an emergency is a bit hard to swallow. Exigent circumstances are when we want these dragnets used.

      We can talk about pre-scanning metadata and background spying etc all we want, but in an active emergency I want those tools available If something wasn't justified. Feel free to sue after the fact.

      • I don't mind they used it on that day; where there's a real threat with a possible follow-up. My problem is what they do with tools like this the other 364 days a year. If anyone believes that this sits in a hangar waiting to be available during an emergency, I have a bridge for sale in Brooklyn.
        • by Etcetera ( 14711 )

          I don't mind they used it on that day; where there's a real threat with a possible follow-up. My problem is what they do with tools like this the other 364 days a year. If anyone believes that this sits in a hangar waiting to be available during an emergency, I have a bridge for sale in Brooklyn.

          Well, that's the point. Ensure there are proper safeguards. Five directors, and a Deputy Assistant at the FBI or something. Hell, require five keys or the President to sign off.

          We have nuclear weapons and have managed to not fire them off even though the power is there. A secure system can be built ensure it only happens when authorized by those who bear political responsibility for their use.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        > Yeah, the notion that this is a bad thing to do *during* an emergency is a bit hard to swallow. Exigent circumstances are when we want these dragnets used. ... except that there is no conceivable way to identify who is a terrorist and who is not, from just where their phone happens to be at the time.

        At the very best, the FBI could match the phones in the area to people who are on the "watch lists", and pretty much only after the fact. You know how much information we're talking about, right? We're no

    • The problem is that they have reconstructed quite a bit of information that they already had or was already public (ie, facebook). They had been in contact with known terrorist suspects, it's just that the contact 'didn't meet a threshold'. So they have tons of information, but they don't want to use it. They just want to collect more information (various omnibus NSA programs).

      It's like those people who download every torrent known to mankind. It's a hoarder mentality. We need a thinking mentality.

      • Yes, but this method funnels more money to security and defense contractors. Oh wait, you thought it was about actual security?
    • Searching to see if there are more terrorists engaged in a coordinated attack? Seems like a reasonable and responsible thing to do.

      Another reasonable thing would be to get judicial approval afterwards, to ensure that exigent circumstances were warranted and that it was an appropriate use of the technology.

      You know, so that it doesn't ratchet into future phone sweeps for just any little thing?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by radarskiy ( 2874255 )

      Search ALL calls in a city of 200k residents? With no constraints, that's at best a waste of time. At worst, it's datamining for a witch hunt.

      Even in an emergency laws still exists. It's too easy to manufacture an incident if parallel construction is too hard for you.

      • Exactly... I'm not even sure how it would do that. Locate phones? possibly... determine if a particular phone is in range? Sure... Actually scan the calls for keywords? No way... At least, nothing portable in anything less than a plane much bigger than a 4 seat cessna, or with a massive data pipe back to land-based crunching resources

      • At worst, it's datamining for a witch hunt.

        If a couple of witches have just murdered over a dozen people with magic missiles, then a witch hunt is not a witch hunt.

    • Searching to see if there are more terrorists engaged in a coordinated attack? Seems like a reasonable and responsible thing to do.

      Maybe. Obviously it wasn't actually successful because there weren't any others to find. But do we have any reason to believe it would have found them if there were? And what was done with all of the data that was gathered?

      And perhaps even more important: What was this plane and equipment doing the day before the attack? And the day after? And the previous month? Etc. Why was this resource so readily available and what else is it used for?

    • by niftymitch ( 1625721 ) on Saturday December 12, 2015 @06:03PM (#51107043)

      Searching to see if there are more terrorists engaged in a coordinated attack? Seems like a reasonable and responsible thing to do.

      Reasonable in this context, sure.
      Now that the data has been collected what else might they do with it?

      The unreasonable process of parallel reconstruction wins convictions and
      is so effective in scoring wins in court such that prosecutors and persecutors
      alike want access to the data. Juries expect a case to be airtight today
      because of the theater of TV crime fighting. The reality is that a total
      parallel reconstruction of fiction will appear more airtight and more convincing
      than the truth which depends on facts.

      Recently a local city was pondering the right of an officer to review all
      body and vehicle camera footage before they submit their action report.
      This was the union demanding it of the city.. Where is the union elected
      by the citizenship to demand closed door considerations...
      Does their report process also extend to phone metadata as well?

      I would note that the review of video evidence is not extended to the defendant. Any
      discrepancy is held up as a lie in court and in the media to the disadvantage of the
      defendant.

      In this case deploying an aircraft to slurp up conversations and other
      metadata makes a lot of sense on the surface. Further an aircraft may well
      allow improved communications so authorities can communicate with the public should
      terrorists attack cell service. Oh wait that is not part of the tool....

      Such tools are very much double edge knives. Why is it that double edge
      knives are so illegal?

      Today such tools are an omission under the law and the secrecy surrounding them
      sheds fruit from the poison tree to to a degree that some will regret.

    • Searching to see if there are more terrorists engaged in a coordinated attack? Seems like a reasonable and responsible thing to do.

      Sure, why spend $8 an hour on a rent-a-cop security guard on guarding the residence [huffingtonpost.com] of the suspects when we could be spending millions of dollars on a spy plane and violating the privacy of hundreds of thousands of US citizens instead.

    • by icebike ( 68054 )

      Searching to see if there are more terrorists engaged in a coordinated attack? Seems like a reasonable and responsible thing to do.

      I, and at least 12,000 others was listening on police band (over the internet from 3 states away), and was able to watch on TV while listening to the scanner traffic, both apparently delayed by nearly the same amount.

      On the scanner, several police units reported being "slow rolled by a car full of long beards". There were several different incidents of this with words to the same effect, "watching us closely", "seem way too interested", etc.
      They even passed these car descriptions and plate numbers to ot

    • by dave420 ( 699308 )

      It didn't help before the attack, why should it now suddenly work after the attack? Some sort of magic? A miracle, perhaps?

  • *Cell* phones (Score:2, Interesting)

    Have we reached the point where "phone" refers to a cell phone? Or do we presume that terrorists don't have access to secure radio-free telephone technology?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I"m charitably assuming you don't think landlines are secure.

  • N404KR (Score:5, Informative)

    by sillivalley ( 411349 ) <sillivalley@nOspam.comcast.net> on Saturday December 12, 2015 @05:05PM (#51106745)
    Look at the track for N404KR on that day (2015/12/02) -- it spent hours circling over the area. It's a Cessna 182T, so a smaller payload capability, but slower with more loiter time over a tighter area.

    And it's registered out of a P.O. box in Virginia, along with many similar companies and aircraft.

    Nothing suspicious here, move along citizen...
    • by Anonymous Coward

      other southern California spy planes
      FBI: N956D, LIM0053 (N239LF), N657TP
      DEA?: N48Q,N66W,N65U
      other: N145AF

  • Although I maintain that every individual has the same right to spy that any government has to spy upon the public I do think I see one bright spot in this. Criminals may get the message that they can no longer use phones to carry out their crimes or ways of life. It is getting harder and harder to be a criminal.
    • by gweihir ( 88907 )

      Actually, it is getting easier and easier to be a criminal, as the bar for that is constantly lowered. It is getting even more easy to be a successful criminal if you are smart, because nothing of these technologies are useful to catch smart criminals. And law enforcement actually likes crime, as it gets them new shiny toys and more power. I am sure they are carefully selecting which criminals they catch, so as to not dry up the supply. They will of course keep catching criminals, otherwise what they do mig

    • "Criminals may get the message that they can no longer use phones to carry out their crimes or ways of life. It is getting harder and harder to be a criminal."

      You are either naive or being purposefully obtuse. Anything that can be used against others can be used against you. This makes it harder for EVERYONE, not just criminals.
  • ... before doing anything criminal, neatly making this a tool suitable exclusively for mass-surveillance and completely worthless for crime-fighting. But those that want this kind of tech have known that all along, because, rather obviously, mass-surveillance is what they want. My take is this use of the surveillance drone served exclusively to collect data to use for research into mass-surveillance, the actual crime on the ground just provided a nice pretext.

  • Unrelated stock photos and innuendo. I love the "is to to have deployed" ... said by who? And the spy device that was "likely" used, if used at all, might have been blah blah blah. A troll article for the uber paranoid followed by 52 messages from people with nothing to add.

  • A lot of terror was brought to the society, a lot of innocent people were killed. Just because the shooter wasn't an Islamic radical doesn't mean it wasn't terrorism; a lot of people place the federal building attack in Oklahoma City under the label "domestic terrorism", there is a strong argument for placing Sandy Hook in the same category.
    • by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Saturday December 12, 2015 @07:03PM (#51107269) Journal

      A lot of terror was brought to the society, a lot of innocent people were killed. Just because the shooter wasn't an Islamic radical doesn't mean it wasn't terrorism;

      Terrorism: the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.

      It can't just be "something that scares people" otherwise lightning and thunder would be terrorism. The Sandy Hook shooter was crazy, he didn't seem to have any political motive as far as anyone can tell. Oklahoma City might be called terrorism, since it had a political goal (and indeed, McVeigh even feels his goals were somewhat achieved), but McVeigh wasn't trying to scare or kill average people. He later said he wished he had done targeted assassinations instead of a mass bombing, since it would have avoided needless casualties. So OK city is kind of in a grey area.

      I don't know why I am discussing this, an argument about a definition of a word is kind of silly thing to do, but oh well.

      • by khallow ( 566160 )

        Oklahoma City might be called terrorism, since it had a political goal (and indeed, McVeigh even feels his goals were somewhat achieved), but McVeigh wasn't trying to scare or kill average people.

        But he was targeting civilians (I gather either to target the ATF office present there or generic federal employees). That's average enough.

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna ( 970587 ) on Saturday December 12, 2015 @06:01PM (#51107033) Journal
    Surprised a government agency acted this fast. But still there is no need to reveal to the terrorists all the tools we have at out disposal.
    • by birukun ( 145245 )

      They did not 'act so fast' if they were already in the air, in an area close by...........

      Meaning, they don't sit around waiting, they are already scooping up calls all the time.

    • by Lumpy ( 12016 )

      Luckily terrorists in general are pretty darn stupid and can not think of alternatives.

      The police have always been lucky that the bulk of baddies are really dumb.

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna ( 970587 ) on Saturday December 12, 2015 @06:04PM (#51107051) Journal
    I think there is enough justification and probably cause to collect such information. It is no different than setting up a cordon and road blocks and stopping all motorists in the vicinity.
    • What about setting up roadblocks for a city of 200,000 people based on one localized shooting incident? It's not like San Bernardino is some tiny village, after all.

      It'd be like closing down five blocks surrounding a liquor store hold-up. Either the government is grasping at straws, or their purpose for this survellance is pretty much unrelated to the incident.

      • (1) not a liquor store holdup, a terrorist action
        (2) you really know nothing about perimeters for manhunts, do you?

  • From the article:

    [Caption] Spy plane: The operator is able to locate a person's location quickly but cannot listen to calls

    The operator is able to locate a person's location quickly although they are not able to listen to calls.

    [Caption] Inside look: Customized controls in the spy plane allow operators to listen in on tens of thousands of phone conversations in one go around

    So which is it? Can they capture conversations or not?

    They also don't seem entirely sure if their facts are facts:

    It was equipped with 'Dirtbox' technology which can scan tens of thousands of phones in one go to identify suspects

    The craft would likely have been equipped with 'Dirtbox' technology which can scan tens of thousands of phones in one go to identify suspects.

    • In order to locate unknown accomplices of attackers, you need to be able to link them to the attack. You do that by listening to them giving status reports or talking about the attack, and by listening for voiceprints of people on watch lists. In order to accomplish that you must be able to listen to calls. Meta data will only tell you about the IMEI number of phones in an area, not what they are doing.
      • That doesn't answer the question of whether they are actually capable of doing it or not.

        Besides, meta data can (presumably) tell you which phones are calling which other phones. It also gives you the phone's location. That's plenty of useful info.

  • We have a set of 3-4 islander aircraft based at r.a.f northolt that take it in turns,most days and nights to circle over London at 10.000ft max,sucking up all phone calls,data links etc etc.. I can set my watch by them,they are that regular overhead on way in and out..when something big kicks off in London etc,they have had at least three in the air at once...are easy to spot,grey,and bristleing in twigs..
  • If planning future attacks, make sure to create, purchase or smuggle a device capable of downing aircraft in the area first. In the US, just point a laser pointer at it. The pilot will freak out and land citing blindness and numbness in their right arm or something :| Or, activate a high powered jammer near the tower to disrupt ALL cellular traffic. This will pretty much kill the sniffer planes purpose as well as create chaos on the ground when comms go out. I suppose just blowing up the nearby towers w
  • While any murders are awful, the number of people killed in SBD was incomparable to the number killed at 09/11. Please stop comparing the two in attempting to imagine that it's become worse, or using the more recent to justify further destruction of our rights and of our country.

  • DHS is hoping your terrorists are stupid and uses standard cellphones.

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