CIA and its amazing spying flying machines catch US mobile signals

11 Mar 2015

As if to show that the CIA can listen to you from absolutely anywhere, new details have emerged which show that for more than a decade, the agency has been using small aircraft to intercept mobile phone signals.

The joint effort between the CIA and the Justice Department’s US Marshals used technology that has been highlighted before, that being, enabling a device that effectively replicated a mobile phone tower that draws in the signal from people’s phones down below.

New information revealed that in 2008, the CIA began distributing these listening devices – at a cost of US$500,000 a pop – for free to the US Marshals as part of an effort of widening its net as smartphones began to become more mainstream.

By doing this, they were able to scan thousands of mobile phones across five US cities giving it a coverage of most of the country’s population, which, of course, many citizens are unknowingly being monitored from air, land and sea.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the CIA facilitated the US Marshals flying listening stations by describing the operation as the ‘silent stimulation’ of mobile phones, whereby it attempts to find its designated target among the vast number of phones and will then circle overhead until it can locate the target’s phone down to a range of 9 feet.

Their actions have now caused major consternation in the US legal system as their decade-long operations are now facing congressional enquiries calling on both the CIA and US Marshals to explain how the operations were not an infringement of US citizens’ rights.

As part of their remit, the CIA, like the National Security Agency, is legally not allowed to conduct vast listening operations on US citizens’ communications, but have a much greater legal standing if its operations are conducted overseas.

Cessna plane image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic