MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) - The FBI has admitted to flying secret surveillance flights over American cities in recent weeks.
And records show that includes the Twin Cities.
Screen grabs from the flight-tracking website FlightRadar24.com show a small Cessna circled the Mall of America, Southdale Center in Edina, and downtown Minneapolis less than two weeks ago.
The story was first reported by Sam Richards who put out information under the twitter handle @MinneapoliSam. The 23-year-old independent journalist first published the story of the FBI surveillance program on the website Medium on May 26.
His story featured screen grabs from FlightRadar24.com showing the circular routes the low-flying planes took over not just Minneapolis, but cities including New York, Chicago, Seattle, Phoenix and Dallas.
Richards said his investigation began when his friend noticed the low-flying suspicious flight and showed him the screen grab.
"It showed pictures of the plane doing loops around different parts of Minneapolis so we started looking at the tail number," he said.
The plane was registered to a fake company, but Richards was able to track it to a fleet registered to the Department of Justice in Virginia.
After his article was posted, a local aviation buff sent him pictures he took of what he believed was the surveillance plane. An antennae appears to be attached to the plane's bottom.
The FBI is now acknowledging that they are the ones gathering the surveillance and that everything being gathered is for ongoing investigations. Richards isn't so sure about that, and he is working on a follow-up story.
"I have been getting a lot of email and messages on Twitter and elsewhere from people who are interested," he said.
The FBI isn't saying which investigations this plane's surveillance is linked to or what kind of data it's collecting.
The agency admits the planes can be equipped to identify thousands of people on the ground through their cell phones, even if they're indoors.
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