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.