Thursday, October 22, 2015

Detroit congressman questions Federal Bureau of Investigation chief on spy plane that circled Dearborn, Michigan



 DETROIT, MI -- U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Detroit, questioned FBI Director James Comey during a House Judiciary Committee oversight hearing Thursday on a the use of surveillance aircraft, including one that circled over Dearborn and other Southeast Michigan communities in August.

Comey testified on a number of topics Thursday, including cybersecurity, counterterrorism and terrorist propaganda and training on the Internet. The full hearing can be viewed here.

Conyers, who is the longest-serving member of Congress and the committee's ranking member, asked Comey to explain to the public how FBI aircraft are used.

"We've received reports that a single-engine Cessna, operated by the FBI and mounted with surveillance equipment, has flown multiple times over Metro Detroit, including two lengthly flights over Dearborn, where many citizens feel reason to distrust the FBI because of their religious or ethnic background," Conyers said.

"You've been forthcoming to my staff about some of the details of the program. Can you give the public a similar overview here?"

Comey said the flights are conducted as parts of individual criminal and counterintelligence investigations, and not watch for mass surveillance.

"When we investigate criminals or spies or terrorists, a key tool is surveillance, to follow them," the FBI director said. "We follow them a lot in cars. We follow them on foot. There are plenty of circumstances where both of those options don't work so well, and so, since the Wright brothers, we have used airplanes to follow people in our investigations. If a spy is going out to meet somebody and it's in an area where we can't park cars, we'll sometimes try and get a small plane up to be able to get eyes on that meet with their contact...

"And I hope this shouldn't surprise the American people. I think I should be in trouble with them if we're not doing this. We use planes in our predicated investigations to conduct surveillance of people who are under investigation. We do not use planes for mass surveillance. And so the good folks in Michigan who saw a plane in the air, I think a lot of them had a chance to meet with my SAC (special agent in charge) out there, and have him explain: 'Look, this is what we do in criminal cases. It should make sense, if you understand how we use it in individual cases.' So we have a small number of airplanes — I actually wish we had more — that we use to follow people in places where it's hard to follow them on foot or in a car."

Detroit FBI officials met with Arab American and Muslim community leaders in Dearborn after the Detroit News first reported the surveillance flights in August.

The News used an online flight tracker to determine that the path of the plane when it flew over Metro Detroit on Aug. 1.

The plane appeared to circle over west Dearborn several times before circle east Dearborn once, flying through Detroit and later zigzagging over Macomb County.

The website is no longer revealing the plane's path.

The report came after the Associated Press earlier in the year traced at least 50 low-flying aircraft seen circling over U.S. cities to the FBI.

- Source: http://www.mlive.com


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