The FBI is selling a million-dollar surveillance plane that was likely used to spy on last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests in Washington, DC.
A listing for the aircraft, a Cessna Citation jet, first appeared on a website run by the federal General Services Administration, where surplus government property is auctioned. Though similar jets have sold for more than $1 million, so far there’s only one bid on the listing, worth $1000, after which the listing notes, “reserve not met.”
The plane is able to fly at high altitudes and carries a sophisticated infrared camera array that can be used during the day or at night.
According to flight data analysed by Buzzfeed News, which has extensively covered the federal government’s surveillance flights, the craft has been used to make drug busts in Puerto Rico, firearms arrests in Alabama, as well as making flights around Baltimore and Washington DC that coincided with Black Lives Matter protests in 2018 and 2020, following the deaths of Freddie Gray and George Floyd at the hands of police.
The intelligence agency, as well as the FBI special agent named in the listing, declined to comment to the outlet on its surveillance efforts generally or the specific history of the plane.
The FBI says it doesn’t monitor protected First Amendment activity, but has in recent years began investigating what it calls “Black Identity Extremists”, a loosely to unrelated coalition of Black activists that critic say includes numerous civil rights organisers, evoking the agency’s long history of surveilling Black social justice activists like Martin Luther King, Jr.
In October of 2020, US Senator Ron Wyden and other members of Congress sent a letter to the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, an independent federal oversight agency, seeking more information on domestic intelligence flights.
“The act of protesting has played a central role in advancing civil rights in our country, and our Constitution protects the right of Americans to engage in peaceful protest unencumbered by government interference,” they wrote. “We are, therefore, concerned that the federal government is infringing on this right.”
The federal government flew drones, helicopters, and planes over at least 15 cities as Black Lives Matter protests occurred last summer, according to a New York Times analysis, including Minneapolis, New York City, and Philadelphia.