A report from the U.K. Daily Mail revealed that the Department of Homeland Security dispatched a spy plane capable of intercepting tens of thousands of phone signals over San Bernardino, California, in the aftermath of the Islamic State group-linked terror attack on the Inland Regional Center by Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik.
The plane, a Pilatus PC-12 equipped with “Dirtbox” technology that allows it to scan phone calls without a warrant, was ordered by DHS to circle in the skies over the San Bernardino area.
The incident called into question whether there were accomplices in the terror attack, in addition to raising serious concerns over warrantless surveillance.
The “Dirtbox” device is a two-foot wide box that acts as a cell phone tower. Since cell phones automatically lock on to the nearest possible tower, by flying overhead it would be able to detect the location of anyone using a cellular phone and track their movements.
It would not, however, be able to pick up the contents of the calls made from the phone or data usage, if any took place.
Sofrep, which first reported the use of the PC-12 equipped with Dirtbox, said that it showed the DHS was “actively searching for other members of a terrorist cell.”
An entry on plane tracking site FlightRadar24 also showed the plane’s activities during the manhunt.
Given how quickly the plane was dispatched, one might think that the government knew more quickly than President Barack Obama acknowleged that this was not “workplace-related” as the president said it was.
It’s disconcerting to see that, while the Obama administration is totally unwilling to take reasonable steps to deal with the terrorist threat posed by the Islamic State group — like, say, increased vetting on Syrian refugees — they have no problems using one of the most constitutionally troublesome forms of electronic surveillance there is.