Wednesday, August 05, 2015

When will Federal Aviation Administration act? When a drone brings down a plane?

Our View: A drone comes dangerously close to a jet in the northeast Valley, with no consequences for its owner.

This is why the FAA needs to stop dragging its feet over drones:

Someone flew a drone up 7,000 feet into the Northeast Valley route airlines use on their approach to Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport. An American Airlines pilot reported coming within 100 feet of the three-prop, black-and-yellow drone.

The drone owner put scores of people at risk, breaking federal law. But it’s unlikely he or she will be found, much less held accountable.

The Federal Aviation Administration insists it has rules — the same rules that apply to any other aircraft. They essentially translate to “don’t be stupid.”

That doesn’t work, as Sunday’s incident proves. If a single-engine plane had wandered in front of that American jet, the FAA would know who it belonged to. It would have a way to ground the pilot. And the private pilot would also have the eyes to see what he needed to avoid.

None of that applies to the drone or its pilot, who was on the ground in Fountain Hills or one of the two adjoining Indian reservations. As consumer-grade drones become more and more powerful, these stories will become more common unless the FAA acts.

One solution would be to ban private ownership of drones. That should be a non-starter; responsibly operated, the devices can be useful in so many ways.

The better solution would be to precisely define what kinds of drones can go where. License any drone capable of flying at higher altitudes, just as any other aircraft is. Perhaps they should be equipped with a tracking device. Penalties for breaking the rules and endangering others should be severe.

The FAA has been dragging its feet for years. It should not wait to act until a large drone gets sucked into a jet engine.

Story and video:

FBI spy plane zeroes in on Dearborn area

An airplane linked to an FBI surveillance program that tracks alleged terrorists, spies and criminals has flown at least seven times over Metro Detroit, including two lengthy flights over the Dearborn area last weekend, according to public records. Some religious groups leery of FBI spy planes circling SE Michigan 

The 2010 single-engine Cessna Skylane is part of a small air force operated by the FBI that uses high-tech cameras and sometimes cellphone surveillance technology. An Associated Press investigation in June revealed that the FBI had flown more than 100 flights in 11 states over a 30-day period.

Flight data reviewed by The Detroit News shows increased flights over Metro Detroit in the past week with prolonged surveillance over Dearborn, a city heavily populated by Muslims and Middle Eastern residents. In all, the FBI surveillance plane has flown over Metro Detroit seven times since Friday, according to the website

The flights raise questions about whether the FBI’s investigation is terror-related. It also raises concerns about privacy violations because of surveillance technology that often does not require a judge’s approval.

“There may be a concern about unjust, persistent surveillance of Muslim communities in Michigan that already have reasons to be uncomfortable with some police tactics,” said Nathan Freed Wessler, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union’s speech, privacy and technology project in New York.

“That community is owed a full and transparent explanation of what law enforcement is doing to ensure this was not some mass surveillance effort of an already targeted community.”

The flights have so concerned Muslim community activist Dawud Walid that he plans to complain this week to the House Judiciary Committee.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Detroit and the FBI declined comment about the recent flights.

The 2010 Cessna is registered to a company called OTV Leasing of Bristow, Va. The registration, like other aircraft included in the AP investigation, is linked to a bank of post office boxes in Bristow.

OTV Leasing was among at least 13 fake companies used by the FBI that were identified during the AP investigation.

The chief executive of OTV Leasing is listed on aircraft records as Robert Lindley. The AP reported that Lindley is listed as CEO of several other front companies, and has at least three distinct signatures on aircraft records. The FBI did not disclose to the AP whether Lindley was a U.S. government employee; the news agency could not reach him for comment.

In a 30-day period, an AP review found, the FBI flew above more than 30 cities in 11 states, including parts of Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Minneapolis, Phoenix and Seattle, as well as southern California.

The FBI told Congress in 2010 it had at least 115 planes.

The FBI’s aviation program is not classified and is used to follow terrorists, spies and criminals, FBI Deputy Director Mark Giuliano said in a statement following the AP investigation.

According to the AP probe, the planes are equipped with high-tech cameras and, in rare instances, technology that allows the FBI to track thousands of cellphones.

The FBI said the aircraft are not equipped, designed or used for bulk collection or mass surveillance. Neither are they routinely equipped with technology that mimics cell towers and lets the FBI locate and intercept communications from cell phones and wireless devices.

“We have an obligation to follow those people who want to hurt our country and its citizens, and we will continue to do so,” Giuliano said in a June statement.

Last weekend’s flights in Dearborn fit a pattern used by the FBI in other cities, including in May in Baltimore following riots after the death of a black man, Freddie Gray, who was injured while in police custody.

The Cessna flew over the Dearborn area in slow-speed, counterclockwise orbits several miles wide and about one mile above the ground.

The Cessna’s orbits late Saturday and late Sunday were nearly identical, bordered by Michigan Avenue to the north, Telegraph Road to the west, Ecorse Road to the south and Greenfield Road to the east.

Each night, the Cessna made 19 nearly identical loops over the Dearborn area and neighboring communities, including parts of Dearborn Heights, Allen Park, Taylor and Melvindale.

The center of the surveillance area is near the Dearborn Public Schools building on Audette, east of West Outer Drive.

At 5:51 p.m. Saturday, the four-seat Cessna, white with a splash of red on the nose and tail, first appeared on radar flying over a neighborhood of $300,000 homes in Harrison Township, north of Metro Parkway in Macomb County.

The plane zigzagged over the community and neighboring Clinton Township before flying south and cutting west across Hamtramck and Detroit.

By 7:32 p.m., the Cessna was in Dearborn.

The plane spent more than 90 minutes making 19 loops, covering an area that includes several landmarks, including Greenfield Village, Ford Motor Co.’s Dearborn Development Center, Edsel Ford High School and the American Muslim Center on West Outer Drive.

“This just feeds into the thought of many of us in the Muslim community leadership that the FBI claims to want to have good relationships with Muslims and be transparent in the light of day, and then they are spying and snooping on us under the cover of night,” said Walid, executive director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

He was unaware of the flights until being told by The News.

“If the FBI is, in fact, tracking one particular suspect for any type of crime, be it gang-related, drug trafficking or violent extremism, that is OK, but history informs us the FBI has been involved in mass surveillance and racial and religious mapping of communities of color,” Walid said.

On Wednesday, Walid sent an email to a lawyer for House Judiciary Committee member U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Detroit, asking if the congressman can investigate the flights. Conyers’ district includes several communities along the FBI plane’s flight path, including Detroit, Dearborn Heights and Melvindale.

“Under the guise of national security, our government claims to be surveilling certain suspect communities but in reality, they are collecting data and invading the privacy of all Americans,” Walid said.

“If we look at the recent history of domestic terrorism and who are the primary perpetrators, we see that it’s not Muslims in metropolitan Detroit,” he added.

The FBI did not alert Dearborn Police before, or after, the flights.

Dearborn police unaware

“I don’t know anything about this,” Police Chief Ronald Haddad said. “I can only be concerned when I learn something about it.”

The Cessna left Dearborn just after 9 p.m. Saturday and headed north before disappearing from radar minutes later in Bloomfield Township. In all, the plane spent 46 percent of its flight time circling over the same Dearborn area after traveling to and from the location.

On Sunday, the Cessna popped up on the radar in at 6:33 p.m. over White Lake Township and the Pontiac Lake Recreation Area.

Local police were unaware of the FBI flight.

“To my knowledge, (the FBI) did not contact the White Lake Township Police Department,” Lt. Daniel Keller told The News. “I don’t have any knowledge of them calling up and advising us that they would do so.”

The plane flew in a zigzag pattern — through Waterford Township and into northern Oakland County, cut through Pontiac, soared over Oakland Hills Country Club in Bloomfield Hills and looped through Lathrup Village and Southfield before heading south.

The Cessna was back in Dearborn by 7:42 p.m.

Like the night before, the fixed-wing plane made 19 loops around the same part of Dearborn before flying north by 9:41 p.m. The plane disappeared from radar over Lake Sherwood, just north of Proud Lake State Recreation Area in Commerce Township.

In all, about 60 percent of the plane’s flight time was spent in the low, slow, counterclockwise loop above Dearborn and surrounding communities.

A second Cessna Skylane linked to the FBI’s aviation program, meanwhile, flew across Metro Detroit on July 29. The Cessna showed up on radar northeast of downtown Pontiac before flying east during an 11-minute flight that ended when the plane disappeared from radar over Lake St. Clair.

Unlike the Dearborn area flights, the Cessna did not orbit over any one area during the brief trip.

Story and video:


Some religious groups leery of FBI spy planes circling SE Michigan 

(WXYZ) - A little known but unclassified FBI surveillance program is drawing criticism by some local community activists.

The program, which only a few years ago was made up of 115 small, equips aircraft with high-tech cameras that make it an eye in the sky capable of tracking suspected terrorists or criminals. 

Now, some are voicing concerns about the program thanks to recently reviewed flight patterns, some showing an FBI plane making repeatedly circling over the Dearborn, home to one of the country’s largest Muslim populations.

Dawud Walid is the Executive Director of the Michigan chapter of CAIR, the Council on American-Islamic Relation.

"I think there’s a strong possibility that this could be a part of the FBI’s broader history of being involved in racial, religious profiling," Walid said.

"It opens up Pandora’s box to a broader situation of the government acting like big brother, being Orwellian, snooping on lawful activities of Americans, and it could be used for not decent purposes."

Not so fast, says Andy Arena. He is the former special agent in charge of the Detroit FBI, and now heads up the Detroit Crime Commission.

"They’re there basically to support and enhance ground surveillance units," Arena said. "They do have electronic capabilities, they can capture some phone records but it’s got to be with a court order."

Paul Abbate, the current special agent in charge of the Detroit FBI, insisted today by phone that the program is being operated within the law.

"The FBI does not employ any aviation assets to conduct mass surveillance, nor to target specific communities," Abbate says. 

The FBI says there are no evidence of any imminent terror attacks in southeast Michigan.

Story and video:

Authorities: Woman who tried to steal plane didn’t have any flight experience • St Louis Downtown Airport (KCPS), Sauget, Illinois


The woman who allegedly attempted Wednesday to steal a corporate jet from the St. Louis Downtown Airport has been committed to the psychiatric ward at Touchette Regional Hospital.

The results of her examination will determine if she’s charged in relation to what Sauget Police Chief Patrick Delaney said was a bizarre attempt to sneak onto the airfield and steal a plane for what appeared to be a short vacation.

“At the scene she told officers that she wanted to fly to China,” Delaney said. “But later she changed her story and said she wanted to go to New York.”

Representatives from the Transportation Safety Administration, FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Attorney’s office interviewed her Wednesday morning looking for terrorist ties and motivation.

But Delaney said any sinister motives have been ruled out, and he doesn’t expect federal charges against the woman, whose name has not been released because she has not been charged with a crime.

Police said only that she is 38 and from downtown St. Louis.

The woman talked her way past a security guard at the airport at 4:21 a.m. Wednesday. She parked her car then walked with her luggage across the tarmac to a 20-seat Global Express jet, owned by a bank in Hong Kong. Once inside, she headed into the cockpit of the plane parked in front of Hangar 22 at Jet Aviation.

“She was hitting buttons and toggle switches trying to get it started,” Delaney said. “The plane was being renovated. So, fortunately, it was disabled, and she couldn’t get it running. Perish the thought if she were able to start it and get the plane moving.”

Police said the woman had no experience flying a plane. But she is an aviation enthusiast who has apparently read many articles about aircraft.

“It’s scary because, had the plane not been disabled, I think she knew enough to get it started,” Delaney said. “From talking to her, it’s obvious she knows a lot about planes. A lot more than I do.”

Delaney said it seems at this point that the woman arrived about the time of a shift change and that she passed herself off as an employee of Jet Aviation, the business where the plane she allegedly tried to take was parked.

The woman was spotted on surveillance cameras and airport security called for help. Police, in turn, called the local fire department to the airport for a “special assignment” — the nature of which was not disclosed over emergency responders’ radios.

Police rushed the plane and the woman surrendered. Delaney said she was very polite and cooperative as she gave herself up, apparently uncertain what all the fuss was about. He suspects she may have a mental health issue and that she didn’t know the gravity of her actions.

The woman has no previous criminal history.

The Sauget Fire Department as well as the St. Clair County Hazardous Materials Response Team and a bomb-sniffing dog were brought in to make sure the suspect didn’t have any weapons, explosives or poisonous chemicals.

Delaney said the plane and her bags were determined not to contain anything dangerous.

“They had clothes and papers in them, that sort of thing,” Delaney said. “It appeared as if she was getting ready to go on a two or three-day vacation.”

It did not appear the suspect had all her belongings with her as if she planned to flee the area and not come back.

Police are working with the airport to make sure a similar security breach can’t happen again.

“This is the first time we have had any sort of security issue like this at the airport,” Delaney said. “Their security is very good. I don’t know how this could have happened. But I don’t see it happening in the future. They are taking this very seriously.”

According to police, more than 1,000 people work at the airport which is busy 24 hours a day.

The Global Express is manufactured by Canandian-based Bombardier Aerospace. It is nearly 97 feet long with a 94-foot wingspan and has a top speed just below 600 mph, or mach .89. It can carry 39,250 pounds of fuel and has a 5,200-mile range.

Jet Aviation is a company that maintains and outfits jet aircraft for manufacturers and both private and corporate owners of planes. They have locations throughout the world in America, Europe, Asia and the Pacific.


SAUGET, Ill. — A woman talked her way past a security guard early Wednesday and entered the cockpit of a private plane at an Illinois airport before she was caught and taken to a hospital for psychiatric observation, authorities said.

Police in Sauget, Illinois, say the 38-year-old St. Louis woman entered a 20-seat Global Express jet on the tarmac of the St. Louis Downtown Airport about 4 a.m. Wednesday.

Detective Sergeant Vito Parisi said the woman had started driving to Lambert-St. Louis International Airport but instead wound up at the smaller air field across the Mississippi River and just east of the city. The plane, which is owned by a Hong Kong bank, had been disabled while it underwent maintenance.

Local prosecutors are reviewing the incident to determine whether to file criminal charges such as trespassing or burglary. Officials don't believe that the incident was connected to terrorism, but the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and federal prosecutors are involved in the investigation, and the local fire department and a county bomb squad responded as a precaution.

Parisi said the woman — who surrendered without incident after her entry on the plane was caught on airport security cameras — was familiar with airplane operations.

Sauget Police Chief Patrick Delaney told the Belleville News-Democrat that the woman had packed her luggage for a short vacation. She expressed an interest in flying to both New York and China but was not a trained pilot, the chief said.

The airport is owned by the Bi-State Development Agency, a two-state government entity that operates the region's light rail and commuter bus systems. Officials declined comment, but a spokeswoman said in a written statement that "security procedures are in place to prevent unauthorized persons from accessing the ramp."

Parisi said that he expects the security breach to prompt more rigorous oversight at the airport.

"Obviously they're going to be making some serious changes," he said.