Monitoring FBI Surveillance Aircraft with ADS-B and an RTL-SDR

After reading an article by the Washington Post about FBI surveillance aircraft spotted in the air after the West Balimore riots, John Wiseman decided to look for more information about these aircraft. Fortunately, John had on his hands a database of about 2 months of ADS-B data that was collected by his continuously running RTL-SDR + BeagleBone Black ADS-B decoder set up.

From reports on the internet John found out that FBI aircraft squawked with 4414 or 4415 codes, and used call signs like JENNA or JENA. With this information John decided to take a look through his ADS-B logs to see if if he could find anything similar. Out of 15,000 aircraft he had tracked, he found 9 aircraft in his logs that matched the criteria, and saw that they did exhibit suspicious behaviour such as circling over LA for hours at a time. Then by looking up their FAA records of the tail numbers of the suspicious aircraft, he was able to discover that these aircraft where licensed to companies with names like NG Research, OBR Leasing, Aerographics Inc. and PXW Services which are suspected Department of Justice front companies. John also writes:

If you Google the tail numbers of aircraft registered to those companies, you start to find forum and mailing list posts (often at sites that tilt toward paranoid/conspiracy/right wing, but not always) with people discussing these specific tail numbers and linking them to the FBI. Some of the supposed evidence includes details of radio communications that people have heard, e.g. talking about “being on station” or using callsigns that start with JENNA, JENA or ROSS, which are supposedly used by the FBI. Other posts claim that DOJ/FBI surveillance aircraft often squawk 4414 or 4415 on their transponders.

An article from the startribune talks about the surveillance planes and says:

The planes use “persistent wide-area surveillance” to photograph large areas for hours at a time, Stanley said. The captured images allow authorities to go back in time, if necessary, to trace pedestrians and vehicles who come to their attention.

Other devices known as “dirtboxes,” “Stingrays” or “IMSI catchers” can capture cellphone data. Stanley said it’s still unclear what technologies have been used in the surveillance flights.


Possible FBI Surviellance Aircraft Path from
Possible FBI Surviellance Aircraft Path from
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I did something similar a few months ago with DEA surveillance aircraft. I was monitoring 418.675 air-ground. I had one RTL monitoring ADSB and ahen I heard the pilot say he was coming down to refuel I caught the tail number. FAA database said it was owned by “Silver Creek Aviation” and at least one showed that it was originally registered to the Dept. of Justice a few years earlier.
I collected about 8 different tail numbers. Whenever the DEA were up there would be a Cessna 206H at around 2500 feet on radar. It was pretty cool one time they were up and I was able to see the Cessna circling for several hours over an apartment complex as the ground units arranged an undercover drug deal/bust. Fun.

David Elkins

The DEA use a call sign “FLINT 431” they were registerd to the DOJ Washington DC hangered at Dallas / Ft. Worth, now the company it’s registered is a bogus front company. The planes are 2006 H, namely N852LR, one of the pilots is Rob Robbins, former West Virginia sheriff. The FBI use Call sign “Jena”. For more info, Elkins v FAA, 1:14-cv-00476, US Federal Court, District of Columbia FOIA action. “YouTube” video’s user name “Jack Sprack”. The FBI / DOJ has stopped “passurs live free airport monitor” from working because I use on screen video’s as court exhibits, all of which are on “You Tube”