TIME National Security

Study Says White Extremists Have Killed More Americans in the U.S. Than Jihadists Since 9/11

Wisconsin Community Pays Respects to Sikhs Killed in Shooting Rampage
Darren Hauck—Getty Images Two women hug as community members in Oak Creek, Wisc., pay respects to the six victims in the mass shooting at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin on Aug. 10, 2012

Radical Islamists were also indicted more frequently than non-Muslim extremists and served longer sentences

Since 9/11, white right-wing terrorists have killed almost twice as many Americans in homegrown attacks than radical Islamists have, according to research by the New America Foundation.

In their June study, the foundation decided to examine groups “engaged in violent extremist activity” and found that white extremists were by far the most dangerous. They pointed to the recent Emanuel AME Church shooting in Charleston, S.C., and the 2012 attack on a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, as well as many lesser-known attacks on Jewish institutions and on police. They found that 48 people were killed by white terrorists, while 26 were killed by radical Islamists, since Sept. 11.

The study also found that the criminal justice system judged jihadists more harshly than their non-Muslim counterparts, indicting them more frequently than non-jihadists and handing down longer sentences.

See a full breakdown of the numbers here.

TIME National Security

Authorities Say Second Hack Exposed Military and Intelligence Data

Second hack is believed to be separate from last week's cyberbreach of federal personnel data

(WASHINGTON) — Hackers linked to China appear to have gained access to the sensitive background information submitted by intelligence and military personnel for security clearances, several U.S. officials said Friday, describing a second cyberbreach of federal records that could dramatically compound the potential damage.

The forms authorities believed to have been accessed, known as Standard Form 86, require applicants to fill out deeply personal information about mental illnesses, drug and alcohol use, past arrests and bankruptcies. They also require the listing of contacts and relatives, potentially exposing any foreign relatives of U.S. intelligence employees to coercion. Both the applicant’s Social Security number and that of his or her cohabitant is required.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the security clearance material is classified.

The security-clearance records provide “a very complete overview of a person,” said Evan Lesser, managing director of ClearanceJobs.com, a website that matches security-clearance holders to available slots. “You don’t need these records to blackmail or exploit someone, but it would sure make the job easier.”

The Office of Personnel Management, which was the target of the hack, has not officially notified military or intelligence personnel whose security clearance data was breached, but news of the second hack was starting to circulate in both the Pentagon and the CIA.

The officials said they believe the hack into the security clearance database was separate from the breach of federal personnel data announced last week — a breach that is itself appearing far worse than first believed. It could not be learned whether the security database breach happened when an OPM contractor was hacked in 2013, an attack that was discovered last year. Members of Congress received classified briefings about that breach in September, but there was no mention of security clearance information being exposed.

The OPM had no immediate comment Friday.

Nearly all of the millions of security clearance holders, including CIA, National Security Agency and military special operations personnel, are potentially exposed in the security clearance breach, the officials said. More than 2.9 million people had been investigated for a security clearance as of October 2014, according to government records.

In the hack of standard personnel records announced last week, two people briefed on the investigation disclosed Friday that as many as 14 million current and former civilian U.S. government employees have had their information exposed to hackers, a far higher figure than the 4 million the Obama administration initially disclosed.

American officials have said that cybertheft originated in China and that they suspect espionage by the Chinese government, which has denied any involvement.

The newer estimate puts the number of compromised records between 9 million and 14 million going back to the 1980s, said one congressional official and one former U.S. official, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because information disclosed in the confidential briefings includes classified details of the investigation.

There are about 2.6 million executive branch civilians, so the majority of the records exposed relate to former employees. Contractor information also has been stolen, officials said. The data in the hack revealed last week include the records of most federal civilian employees, though not members of Congress and their staffs, members of the military or staff of the intelligence agencies.

On Thursday, a major union said it believes the hackers stole Social Security numbers, military records and veterans’ status information, addresses, birth dates, job and pay histories; health insurance, life insurance and pension information; and age, gender and race data.

The personnel records would provide a foreign government an extraordinary roadmap to blackmail, impersonate or otherwise exploit federal employees in an effort to gain access to U.S. secrets —or entry into government computer networks.

Outside experts were pointing to the breaches as a blistering indictment of the U.S. government’s ability to secure its own data two years after a National Security Agency contractor, Edward Snowden, was able to steal tens of thousands of the agency’s most sensitive documents.

After the Snowden revelations about government surveillance, it became more difficult for the federal government to hire talented younger people into sensitive jobs, particularly at intelligence agencies, Lesser said.

“Now, if you get a job with the government, your own personal information may not be secure,” he said. “This is going to multiply the government’s hiring problems many times.”

The Social Security numbers were not encrypted, the American Federation of Government Employees said, calling that “an abysmal failure on the part of the agency to guard data that has been entrusted to it by the federal workforce.”

Samuel Schumach, an OPM spokesman, would not address how the data was protected or specifics of the information that might have been compromised, but said, “Today’s adversaries are sophisticated enough that encryption alone does not guarantee protection.” OPM is nonetheless increasing its use of encryption, he said.

The Obama administration had acknowledged that up to 4.2 million current and former employees whose information resides in the Office of Personnel Management server are affected by the December cyberbreach, but it had been vague about exactly what was taken.

J. David Cox, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said in a letter Thursday to OPM director Katherine Archuleta that based on incomplete information OPM provided to the union, “the hackers are now in possession of all personnel data for every federal employee, every federal retiree and up to 1 million former federal employees.”

Another federal union, the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, said Friday that “at this point, we believe AFGE’s assessment of the breach is overstated.” It called on the OPM to provide more information.

Rep. Mike Rogers, the former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said last week that he believes China will use the recently stolen information for “the mother of all spear-phishing attacks.”

Spear-phishing is a technique under which hackers send emails designed to appear legitimate so that users open them and load spyware onto their networks.

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Associated Press writer Lolita C. Baldor contributed to this story.

TIME National Security

Hackers Have Personnel Data on Every Federal Employee, Union Says

Government Hacked homeland security
Susan Walsh—AP A gate leading to the Homeland Security Department headquarters in northwest Washington, June 5, 2015.

Allegations of huge damage from a cyberattack

(WASHINGTON)—Hackers stole personnel data and Social Security numbers for every federal employee, a government worker union said Thursday, charging that the cyberattack on U.S. employee data is far worse than the Obama Administration has acknowledged.

Sen. Harry Reid, the Democratic leader, said on the Senate floor that the December hack into Office of Personnel Management data was carried out by “the Chinese.” Reid is one of eight lawmakers who is briefed on the most secret intelligence information. U.S. officials have declined to publicly blame China, which has denied involvement.

J. David Cox, president of the American Federal of Government Employees, said in a letter to OPM director Katherine Archuleta that based on OPM’s internal briefings, the hackers stole military records and veterans’ status information, address, birth date, job and pay history, health insurance, life insurance, and pension information; age, gender, race data.

The letter was obtained by The Associated Press.

The union said it is basing its assessment on internal OPM briefings. The agency has sought to downplay the damage, saying that only limited personally identifying information was breached.

“We believe that Social Security numbers were not encrypted, a cybersecurity failure that is absolutely indefensible and outrageous,” the letter said.

“Based on the sketchy information OPM has provided, we believe that the Central Personnel Data File was the targeted database, and that the hackers are now in possession of all personnel data for every federal employee, every federal retiree, and up to one million former federal employees.”

TIME National Security

Pentagon Adds U.K. to List of Countries Sent Live Anthrax

anthrax
Getty Images Anthrax Bacterium

68 labs in 19 states and 4 countries mistakenly received shipments

The Pentagon has added one laboratory in the UK and another in Massachusetts to a list of laboratories that recently received shipments of live anthrax samples from a U.S. Army facility.

These shipments may have been the inadvertent result of a quality control oversight at a U.S. Army facility in Utah, Reuters reports. The Dugway Proving Ground facility, which is working with the DoD to research potential bio-weapons, routinely uses radiation to permanently deactivate anthrax spores before sending them, but it is possible for some spores to remain alive through the treatment.

These new shipments bring the total number of laboratories to have received recent live anthrax shipments from Dugway to 68, located in 19 states and 4 countries, including Australia, Canada, South Korea and Britain. The first live sample was identified on the evening of May 27 at a laboratory in Maryland.

This is the second prominent accidental Anthrax scare in recent months; in 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that as many as 75 of its workers had been exposed to a live Anthrax sample after procedures to kill the bacteria were improperly executed.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Pentagon are currently investigating the cause of these recent shipments.

[Reuters]

 

TIME National Security

China Is Suspected in Massive Breach of Federal Personnel Data

Officials say data from the Office of Personnel Management and Interior Department was compromised

(WASHINGTON) — China-based hackers are suspected of breaking into the computer networks of the U.S. government personnel office and stealing identifying information of at least 4 million federal workers, American officials said Thursday.

The Department of Homeland Security said in a statement that data from the Office of Personnel Management and the Interior Department had been compromised.

“The FBI is conducting an investigation to identify how and why this occurred,” the statement said.

The hackers were believed to be based in China, said Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican.

Collins, a member of the Senate intelligence committee, said the breach was “yet another indication of a foreign power probing successfully and focusing on what appears to be data that would identify people with security clearances.”

A U.S. official who declined to be identified said the data breach could potentially affect every federal agency. One key question is whether intelligence agency employee information was stolen.

“This is an attack against the nation,” said Ken Ammon, chief strategy officer of Xceedium, who said the attack fit the pattern of those carried out by nation states for the purpose of espionage.

The information stolen could be used to impersonate or blackmail federal employees with access to sensitive information, he said.

The Office of Personnel Management is the human resources department for the federal government, and it conducts background checks for security clearances. The OPM conducts more than 90 percent of federal background investigations, according to its website.

In November, a former DHS contractor disclosed another cyberbreach that compromised the private files of more than 25,000 DHS workers and thousands of other federal employees.

DHS said its intrusion detection system, known as EINSTEIN, which screens federal Internet traffic to identify potential cyber threats, identified the hack of OPM’s systems and the Interior Department’s data center, which is shared by other federal agencies.

It was unclear why the EINSTEIN system didn’t detect the breach until after so many records had been copied and removed.

“DHS is continuing to monitor federal networks for any suspicious activity and is working aggressively with the affected agencies to conduct investigative analysis to assess the extent of this alleged intrusion,” the statement said.

Rep. Adam Schiff, ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee, called the hack “shocking, because Americans may expect that federal computer networks are maintained with state of the art defenses.”

Ammon said federal agencies are rushing to install two-factor authentication with smart cards, a system designed to make it harder for intruders to access networks. But implementing that technology takes time.

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Associated Press writers Donna Cassata, Alicia A. Caldwell and Kevin Freking contributed to this report.

TIME intelligence

Martin O’Malley Calls For More Restrictions on NSA Surveillance

U.S. Democratic presidential candidate and former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley speaks at the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce June 3, 2015 in Washington, D.C.
Win McNamee—Getty Images U.S. Democratic presidential candidate and former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley speaks at the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce June 3, 2015 in Washington, D.C.

Former Gov. Martin O’Malley said that recent reforms to the Patriot Act did not go far enough in curtailing the National Security Agency, arguing that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance court should include a public advocate.

“The USA Freedom act was a step in the right direction, and I’m glad that it passed and the president signed it,” said O’Malley, who is running for the Democratic nomination for president.

“I would like to see us go further in terms of a role for a public advocate in the FISA court,” he continued. “As a lawyer myself and by training, I think our national security and our rights would be better served if we had a bigger role for a public advocate in the FISA court.”

O’Malley’s remarks at the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday afternoon marked the first time the two-term governor has laid out a notable policy position on mass surveillance since becoming a presidential candidate. He has thus far staked his candidacy on a progressive economic platform, including regulating Wall Street and pushing for immigration reform.

President Obama signed into law on Tuesday sweeping legislation that dissolves the NSA’s authority to monitor data on millions of Americans’ phone calls, instead requiring that phone companies store the data themselves. If the government wants to access call data, it has to first acquire a court order with FISA.

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who is running for the Republican nomination, has made reforming surveillance a central platform of his presidency. But O’Malley differed with Paul on how to do that.

Over the weekend in New Hampshire, O’Malley said he opposed Paul’s move on Sunday to delay a vote on to extend the Patriot Act. Paul’s delay ultimately led to the NSA surveillance authorities lapsing for nearly two full days, but paved the way for the USA Freedom Act to pass on Tuesday. “I think we could be less safe if we resort to obstructionism when it comes to something as important as protecting our homeland from the threat of terror attacks,” he said, BuzzFeed news reported.

TIME intelligence

NSA Program to Collect Phone Records Ends

After a 67-32 vote in the Senate, Obama signed the bill into law

The National Security Agency will lose the ability to collect and store virtually all of American phone records, after the U.S. Senate voted 67-32 Tuesday to reform the secret intelligence collection programs revealed in 2013 by Edward Snowden.

The Senate voted to pass a compromise version of the USA Freedom Act, a bill that has already passed the House, with the support of President Obama, who signed the measure into law Tuesday night. Under the new law, the U.S. government would stop collecting the phone records, showing date, time and numbers connected. Instead, telephone companies will be required to keep the information, which can then be queried with a court order by intelligence and law enforcement professionals.

Senate leaders, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who called the vote a “resounding victory for those who plotted against our homeland,” had hoped to resist the House reforms. But McConnell failed to schedule enough time to debate a different bill before several provisions of the Patriot Act, including the phone records program, expired on Sunday night. “He put us in a position to get us something no worse than the Freedom Act,” said Republican Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan.

McConnell scheduled votes on several amendments to the Freedom Act Tuesday that would have limited the reforms, but they all failed.

Nonetheless, many civil libertarians, including Amash, also opposed the Freedom Act for not going further in limiting the ability of court orders to request large numbers of documents. Under the Freedom Act, requests for information can be made based on a “specific selection term,” which can be an individual, association or an organization, a provision that opponents fear the intelligence community will interpret to once again gather vast amounts of information.

At issue throughout the debate was the history of the specific telephone-record program. It was permitted under the 2001 U.S.A. Patriot Act under a vague provision that allowed the government to request “tangible things” including books, records, papers and documents for an investigation into international terror or clandestine intelligence. Until the Snowden leaks, U.S. officials had concealed the fact that this provision was used to collect records of virtually every phone call made in America.

Asked in 2013 if the NSA collected “any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans,” National Intelligence Director James Clapper falsely answered “not wittingly,” in an unclassified Senate hearing. Snowden later said this deception was a major reason for his decision to leak classified material.

The Senate vote ended a tense three days in the Senate, in which Senators arrived home over the weekend only to be forced to stand by as Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, a contender for the Republican presidential nomination, obstructed movement on a last-minute effort to pass a short term extension to several intelligence authorities so that the Senate could craft its own bill.

The rebellion of Paul, who forced the expiration of several intelligence gathering powers Sunday night in protest, forced McConnell to act fast to reinstate the authorities. Paul’s procedural moves were able to delay passage of the bill, but only for a couple days.

In the end, he voted against the final bill, along with Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who are both also running for President. Republican Ted Cruz voted for the reforms.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, who was traveling at the time of the vote, said he would have voted against the reforms. Graham also criticized Paul’s tactics. “There are lines I don’t cross, within my party or without,” he told TIME. “To me, he crossed the line here. He put the country at risk unnecessarily.”

TIME National Security

Congress Sends NSA Surveillance Bill to Obama

The President plans to sign it quickly

(WASHINGTON) — Congress has sent legislation to the president reviving and remaking a disputed post-9/11 surveillance program two days after letting it temporarily expire.

The vote in the Senate Tuesday was 67-32. The House already has passed the bill, and President Barack Obama plans to sign it quickly.

The legislation will phase out, over six months, the once-secret National Security Agency bulk phone records collection program made public two years ago by agency contractor Edward Snowden.

It will be replaced by a program that keeps the records with phone companies but allows the government to search them with a warrant.

Senate Republican leaders opposed the House bill but were forced to accept it unchanged after senators rejected last-ditch attempts to amend it.

TIME National Security

NSA Surveillance Bill Clears Senate Hurdle

FILE PHOTO  NSA Compiles Massive Database Of Private Phone Calls
NSA/Getty Images The NSA headquarters in Fort Meade, Md.

The next question is whether the Senate will change the bill

(WASHINGTON)—The Senate sped toward passage Tuesday of legislation to end the National Security Agency’s collection of Americans’ calling records while preserving other surveillance authorities. But House leaders warned their Senate counterparts not to proceed with planned changes to a House version.

Kevin McCarthy of California, the House majority leader, said amendments contemplated by the Senate “would bring real challenges” in getting the House to go along.

“The best way to make sure America is protected is for the Senate to pass the USA Freedom Act,” he said, referring to the House version.

The Senate version of that bill cleared a procedural hurdle Tuesday by a vote of 83-14, and it was expected to pass the Senate by day’s end. But Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he planned votes on three modifications.

The law authorizing government bulk collection and storage of Americans’ phone records expired at midnight Sunday. The NSA stopped gathering the records from phone companies hours before the deadline. Other post-9/11 surveillance provisions considered more effective than the phone-data collection program also lapsed, leading intelligence officials to warn of critical gaps.

Those other provisions include the FBI’s authority to gather business records in terrorism and espionage investigations, and to more easily eavesdrop on a suspect who is discarding cellphones to avoid surveillance.

During a closed-door House GOP meeting Tuesday morning, several members expressed deep concerns about the planned Senate amendments. Rep. James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin called the changes a “poison pill” during the meeting, said a leadership aide who declined to be named because he was not authorized to be quoted publicly.

Republican Sen. John Barrasso attended the meeting to represent Senate leaders and indicated that the message was received, the aide said.

The bill before the Senate, known in the House as the USA Freedom Act, would reauthorize several surveillance provisions that have expired. But it would phase out NSA phone records collection over time. It passed the House overwhelmingly and is backed by President Barack Obama. Republican Sen. Rand Paul, who doesn’t believe it goes far enough, blocked consideration Sunday night.

If the measure becomes law over the next few days, the NSA will resume gathering the phone records, but only for a transition period of six months, in the House version, or a year in a proposed Senate amendment.

If the bill fails amid congressional politics, the collection cannot resume, period.

The amendments proposed by Sen. Richard Burr, the North Carolina Republican who chairs the intelligence committee, were designed, he said, to win quick House approval. One requires the director of national intelligence to certify that the NSA can effectively search records held by the phone companies in terrorism investigations. Another would require the phone companies to notify the government if they change their policy on how long they held the records.

A third, to extend the transition from six months to 12 months, promises to be controversial. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said it is needed, but Mike Rogers, the NSA director, has said six months is sufficient.

Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee, accused Senate Republicans of engaging in “the politics of saving face,” adding that the amendments “may tank the USA Freedom Act in the House.”

Whatever the outcome, the past two days in Congress have made this much clear: The NSA will ultimately be out of the business of collecting and storing American calling records.

This turn of events is a resounding victory for Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who disclosed the calling records collection in 2013. Senators on the intelligence committee had been issuing veiled and vague warnings about the phone records program for years.

But it was Snowden who revealed the details. He’s now living in Moscow, having fled U.S. prosecution for disclosing classified information.

Because of Snowden, “people have some more insight into exactly how they are being spied upon and how the law has been twisted to authorize mass surveillance of people who have no connection to a crime or terrorism,” said Harley Geiger, senior counsel with the Center for Democracy and Technology, an advocacy group that supports the USA Freedom Act.

Still, the USA Freedom Act would hardly count as a defeat for the NSA, Snowden’s former employer. NSA officials, including former director Keith Alexander, have long said they had no problem with ending their collection of phone records, as long as they can continue to search the data held by the companies, which the legislation allows them to do.

The USA Freedom Act doesn’t address the vast majority of Snowden revelations, which concern NSA mass surveillance of global internet traffic that often sweeps in American communication.

TIME National Security

FBI Flies Secret Surveillance Planes Over U.S. Cities

FBI Surveillance Flights
Andrew Harnik—AP In this photo taken May 26, 2015, a small plane flies near Manassas Regional Airport in Manassas, Va., the plane is among a fleet of surveillance aircraft by the FBI, which are primarily used to target suspects under federal investigation.

The federal agency said the aircrafts are used for specific, ongoing investigations

(WASHINGTON)—The FBI is operating a small air force with scores of low-flying planes across the country carrying video and, at times, cellphone surveillance technology — all hidden behind fictitious companies that are fronts for the government, The Associated Press has learned.

The planes’ surveillance equipment is generally used without a judge’s approval, and the FBI said the flights are used for specific, ongoing investigations. In a recent 30-day period, the agency flew above more than 30 cities in 11 states across the country, an AP review found.

Aerial surveillance represents a changing frontier for law enforcement, providing what the government maintains is an important tool in criminal, terrorism or intelligence probes. But the program raises questions about whether there should be updated policies protecting civil liberties as new technologies pose intrusive opportunities for government spying.

U.S. law enforcement officials confirmed for the first time the wide-scale use of the aircraft, which the AP traced to at least 13 fake companies, such as FVX Research, KQM Aviation, NBR Aviation and PXW Services. Even basic aspects of the program are withheld from the public in censored versions of official reports from the Justice Department’s inspector general.

“The FBI’s aviation program is not secret,” spokesman Christopher Allen said in a statement. “Specific aircraft and their capabilities are protected for operational security purposes.” Allen added that the FBI’s planes “are not equipped, designed or used for bulk collection activities or mass surveillance.”

But the planes can capture video of unrelated criminal activity on the ground that could be handed over for prosecutions.

Some of the aircraft can also be equipped with technology that can identify thousands of people below through the cellphones they carry, even if they’re not making a call or in public. Officials said that practice, which mimics cell towers and gets phones to reveal basic subscriber information, is rare.

Details confirmed by the FBI track closely with published reports since at least 2003 that a government surveillance program might be behind suspicious-looking planes slowly circling neighborhoods. The AP traced at least 50 aircraft back to the FBI, and identified more than 100 flights since late April orbiting both major cities and rural areas.

One of the planes, photographed in flight last week by the AP in northern Virginia, bristled with unusual antennas under its fuselage and a camera on its left side. A federal budget document from 2010 mentioned at least 115 planes, including 90 Cessna aircraft, in the FBI’s surveillance fleet.

The FBI also occasionally helps local police with aerial support, such as during the recent disturbance in Baltimore that followed the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, who sustained grievous injuries while in police custody. Those types of requests are reviewed by senior FBI officials.

The surveillance flights comply with agency rules, an FBI spokesman said. Those rules, which are heavily redacted in publicly available documents, limit the types of equipment the agency can use, as well as the justifications and duration of the surveillance.

Details about the flights come as the Justice Department seeks to navigate privacy concerns arising from aerial surveillance by unmanned aircrafts, or drones. President Barack Obama has said he welcomes a debate on government surveillance, and has called for more transparency about spying in the wake of disclosures about classified programs.

“These are not your grandparents’ surveillance aircraft,” said Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst with the American Civil Liberties Union, calling the flights significant “if the federal government is maintaining a fleet of aircraft whose purpose is to circle over American cities, especially with the technology we know can be attached to those aircraft.”

During the past few weeks, the AP tracked planes from the FBI’s fleet on more than 100 flights over at least 11 states plus the District of Columbia, most with Cessna 182T Skylane aircraft. These included parts of Houston, Phoenix, Seattle, Chicago, Boston, Minneapolis and Southern California.

Evolving technology can record higher-quality video from long distances, even at night, and can capture certain identifying information from cellphones using a device known as a “cell-site simulator” — or Stingray, to use one of the product’s brand names. These can trick pinpointed cellphones into revealing identification numbers of subscribers, including those not suspected of a crime.

Officials say cellphone surveillance is rare, although the AP found in recent weeks FBI flights orbiting large, enclosed buildings for extended periods where aerial photography would be less effective than electronic signals collection. Those included above Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota.

After The Washington Post revealed flights by two planes circling over Baltimore in early May, the AP began analyzing detailed flight data and aircraft-ownership registrations that shared similar addresses and flight patterns. That review found some FBI missions circled above at least 40,000 residents during a single flight over Anaheim, California, in late May, according to Census data and records provided by the website FlightRadar24.com.

Most flight patterns occurred in counter-clockwise orbits up to several miles wide and roughly one mile above the ground at slow speeds. A 2003 newsletter from the company FLIR Systems Inc., which makes camera technology such as seen on the planes, described flying slowly in left-handed patterns.

“Aircraft surveillance has become an indispensable intelligence collection and investigative technique which serves as a force multiplier to the ground teams,” the FBI said in 2009 when it asked Congress for $5.1 million for the program.

Recently, independent journalists and websites have cited companies traced to post office boxes in Virginia, including one shared with the Justice Department. The AP analyzed similar data since early May, while also drawing upon aircraft registration documents, business records and interviews with U.S. officials to understand the scope of the operations.

The FBI asked the AP not to disclose the names of the fake companies it uncovered, saying that would saddle taxpayers with the expense of creating new cover companies to shield the government’s involvement, and could endanger the planes and integrity of the surveillance missions. The AP declined the FBI’s request because the companies’ names — as well as common addresses linked to the Justice Department — are listed on public documents and in government databases.

At least 13 front companies that AP identified being actively used by the FBI are registered to post office boxes in Bristow, Virginia, which is near a regional airport used for private and charter flights. Only one of them appears in state business records.

Included on most aircraft registrations is a mysterious name, Robert Lindley. He is listed as chief executive and has at least three distinct signatures among the companies. Two documents include a signature for Robert Taylor, which is strikingly similar to one of Lindley’s three handwriting patterns.

The FBI would not say whether Lindley is a U.S. government employee. The AP unsuccessfully tried to reach Lindley at phone numbers registered to people of the same name in the Washington area since Monday.

Law enforcement officials said Justice Department lawyers approved the decision to create fictitious companies to protect the flights’ operational security and that the Federal Aviation Administration was aware of the practice. One of the Lindley-headed companies shares a post office box openly used by the Justice Department.

Such elusive practices have endured for decades. A 1990 report by the then-General Accounting Office noted that, in July 1988, the FBI had moved its “headquarters-operated” aircraft into a company that wasn’t publicly linked to the bureau.

The FBI does not generally obtain warrants to record video from its planes of people moving outside in the open, but it also said that under a new policy it has recently begun obtaining court orders to use cell-site simulators. The Obama administration had until recently been directing local authorities through secret agreements not to reveal their own use of the devices, even encouraging prosecutors to drop cases rather than disclose the technology’s use in open court.

A Justice Department memo last month also expressly barred its component law enforcement agencies from using unmanned drones “solely for the purpose of monitoring activities protected by the First Amendment” and said they are to be used only in connection with authorized investigations and activities. A department spokeswoman said the policy applied only to unmanned aircraft systems rather than piloted airplanes.

___

Associated Press writers Sean Murphy in Oklahoma City; Joan Lowy and Ted Bridis in Washington; Randall Chase in Wilmington, Delaware; and news researchers Monika Mathur in Washington and Rhonda Shafner in New York contributed to this report.

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