DOJ and DHS spent over $95M over past 5-years on cell-site simulators to track, monitor, persons of interest

Covert monitoring of targeted individuals is taking place on many different levels, report concludes

(INTELLIHUB) — Over the past five years the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security have spent over $95 million dollars to acquire at least 430 cell-site simulation devices which can be used to target persons of interest, according to a new Committee on Oversight and Government Reform report released December 19 which was based on an internal investigation.

These “robust and sophisticated technologies” are reported to be used primarily against “foreign actors” and so-called ‘targeted individuals,’ but have been used in many cases to covertly monitor and engage American citizens.

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An excerpt from the report reads:

During the course of the investigation, it became clear that the use of cell-site simulators
by state and local law enforcement agencies was not governed by any uniform standards or policies. In an effort to determine how widespread this problem was, the Committee identified four cities of varying sizes and crime rates, along with two states, for the purpose of ascertaining the number and type of cell-site simulators in use, as well as the policies that were employed for their use. In particular, the Committee sent letters to the police departments in Washington, D.C.; Alexandria, Virginia; Sunrise, Florida; Baltimore, Maryland; the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation; and the Virginia State Police, requesting among other things, information regarding the number, the funding, and the use of these devices at the state and local level.

Findings from the report conclude:

  • The Department of Justice has 310 cell-site simulation devices and spent more than $71 million in fiscal years 2010-14 on cell-site simulation technology.
  • The Department of Homeland Security has 124 cell-site simulation devices and spent more than $24 million in fiscal years 2010-14 on cell-site simulation technology.
  • DHS allows state and local law enforcement to purchase cell-site simulation technology using grants from the Preparedness Grant Program administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), including the State Homeland Security Program, Law Enforcement Terrorism Prevention Program, Citizen Corps Program, Urban Areas Security Initiative, Emergency Management Performance Grants, Buffer Zone Protection Program, Transit Security Program, and the Intercity Passenger Rail Program.
  • DHS was able to identify more than $1.8 million in grant money to state and local law enforcement to purchase cell-site simulation technology, however DHS does not maintain a separate accounting of grant funds used to purchase cell site-simulators and the total amount may be higher.
  • Before DOJ and DHS issued their new and enhanced policies for the use of cell-site simulators—which now require a warrant supported by probable cause—federal law enforcement agencies had varying policies and most relied on a lower-than-probable cause standard for use of these devices in most, but not all, situations.
  • State laws continue to vary as to what court authorization is required before law enforcement can deploy cell-site simulators. Several states, including California,9 Washington,Virginia, Utah, and Illinois have passed laws requiring law enforcement agencies to obtain a warrant or order based on probable cause before deploying cell-site simulators, with varying exceptions.
  • In many cases, state and local law enforcement continue to rely on the state equivalent of a pen register/trap and trace order, which only requires law enforcement to meet a “relevance based standard” to use cell-site simulation devices, a standard lower than probable cause.
  • Costs of individual cell-site simulator devices ranged from $41,500 to as high as $500,000.

The devices “can be used to identify the IMSI [International mobile subscriber identity] number during the course of an investigation, and the IMSI numbers of any individuals who are present with the target.”

Additionally the report points out:

To use the device as an investigative tool, law enforcement deploys the device at a known location of the target and obtains every IMSI number in the vicinity at the time of deployment. By deploying the device numerous times in numerous locations where the targeted individual is present, law enforcement collects a list of IMSI numbers for each cell phone present at every location where the device was deployed. The device analyzes this list to determine if there were common IMSI numbers at each location. By a process of elimination, the common IMSI numbers are identified as likely to be those of the target’s phone, and individuals associated with the target. Law enforcement can then work with cellular service providers to determine telephone numbers and billing information associated with specific IMSI numbers.

Likewise, the devices could be deployed at groups of people who assemble at different times in different places to eventually determine the identities of individuals whose IMSI numbers become associated with that group. When used as an investigative tool, the device stores the identifying numbers for a limited period of time to analyze them for the purpose of distinguishing the targeted device.

An Intellihub report dated Mar. 5 details how you can defend yourself against “cellphone spoofing” and points out “how the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and even local law enforcement agencies have deployed cell-site simulators or cellphone-tower spoofing units. This technology is marketed via a variety of names: DirtBox, StingRay, and TriggerFish.”

XKeyscore wrote:

So much for our right to privacy. Originally this technology would set back a local law enforcement agency more than $100,000, but that is not the case anymore. Suitcase-sized devices are now available, hackers have assembled effective units for a few thousand dollars, and federal funds given to local law enforcement agencies by the Department of Homeland Security (via “Partner Programs”) is often utilized to purchase military-grade technology and weapons.

Now there is one solution to help avoid being caught up in this dragnet, or at least technology which will give you a heads-up as to when your cell-phone is linking up to an unknown tower. It is an easy-to-install software referred to as an IMSI-catcher-detector.

Learn more about how to defend yourself against cellphone spoofing.

Shepard Ambellas is an opinion journalist, filmmaker, radio talk show host and the founder and editor-in-chief of Intellihub News & Politics. Established in 2013, is ranked in the upper 1% traffic tier on the World Wide Web. Read more from Shep’s World. Get the Podcast. Follow Shep on Facebook and Twitter.
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The Shepard Ambellas Show is an all original fast-paced comedy, variety, news show where nearly everything goes. Shepard Ambellas is the founder and editor-in-chief of the popular independent news website (news and politics). Bethany Adoni sits shotgun. The Shepard Ambellas Show airs LIVE weekdays (Mon-Fri) on the Shepard Ambellas YouTube channel from 5-7 pm Eastern/4C/2P. Subscribe now! Turn notifications on immediately. The show is nationally syndicated on iHeart Radio. An archived version of the show is also available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Castbox, Deezer, Podcast Addict, Podchaser, JioSaavn, and Spreaker for you listening pleasure.