It looks like the government is paying attention to the demonstrations occurring in various cities across the country in more ways than one. News has surfaced confirming that the FBI used one of its most advanced spy planes to monitor recent Black Lives Matter protests specifically in Washington D.C. earlier this month, according to Buzzfeed.
And, this is not the first time the aircraft has been used to surveil BLM protests. In 2015, it was also used to observe the uprising in Baltimore after the death of Freddie Gray, the Black man who was arrested by the police and died while being transported in their custody.
"The FBI is supporting our state, local, and federal law enforcement partners with maintaining public safety in the communities we serve," the FBI told the news outlet in a written statement. "Our efforts are focused on identifying, investigating, and disrupting individuals that are inciting violence and engaging in criminal activity. The FBI respects those who are exercising their First Amendment rights, including the right to peacefully protest."
Buzzfeed reports that on June 1, the Agency deployed a Cessna Citation jet from Manassas Regional Airport in Virginia to surveil the protests happening in D.C.
The plane is usually used on top surveillance missions, including federal drug and gang busts. Its use for watching protests is controversial since the FBI claims it doesn’t monitor activities protected by the First Amendment.
"It's now been well documented that a number of federal agencies wildly overreacted to protests in D.C. in deeply troubling ways," Nathan Freed Wessler, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union's Project on Speech, Privacy, and Technology, told Buzzfeed. "To learn that the FBI deployed its state-of-the-art surveillance plane to watch these historic protests raises additional troubling questions."
In addition to the Cessna jet, the New York Times reports that in early June, an RC-26 aircraft was deployed by the Air National Guard to fly around D.C. The Air Force inspector General is currently looking into whether this aircraft “improperly” surveilled demonstrators.
According to Business Insider, the FBI was able to locate one particular protester in Philadelphia, who was accused of setting a police car on fire. They searched for images of her on Instagram, found the clothing retailer that sold the shirt she wore on the surveillance video and lastly discovered where she worked through her LinkedIn.
The FBI declined to answer specific questions about the evidence collected by the plane and/or whether it conducted any forms of surveillance other than video monitoring.
Photo: Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images