You can imagine the scene. Tear gas canisters fly overhead as a rag-tag group of protesters launch bricks at incoming police. Like a silent wall of death the cops move forward, a grand octopus built from hundreds of armored bodies snatching up whoever they can. With each step the body heat of the immediate area intensifies, screams mix with LRAD cannons, and a few feet ahead of us a red, sticky liquid stains the black asphalt red. A student looses her nerve and ducks into an alleyway. She texts her friends, parents, allies, even members of an Anarchist collective she heard of to pick her up. She continues running hoping her mask will hide her identity, hoping that someone has heard her call for help.
Suddenly her phone goes dead. Has the battery run out? As she taps her screen two police officers tackle her from behind, slamming her against the ground and dislocating her jaw. She’s dragged into a waiting transit vehicle left wondering how they found her.
But this is just the beginning.
What our young student doesn’t know is that the mass text she sent has sold out every one of her friends and family thanks to the shocking array of spy weaponry available to the police. They will be visited, they will be questioned, and now every phone call and text they send will in turn be tracked, monitored, and cataloged with tools that would give James Bond a raging hard-on.
And that’s just the stuff they bought two years ago. Welcome to the American police state.
The funny thing is the above scenario is not entirely unexpected. We American radicals have grown used to the idea of being watched, though we’re always a bit foggy on the details. Sure we remember the Snowden papers, and yes we’ve heard of fusion centers, but beyond that the details are fuzzy.
Take for instance the “Stingray.” You’ve probably heard of it, you probably know it’s been used against protesters, but you might not know what exactly it does. That’s because the little we do know about this equipment has only been revealed due to bloody FOIA lawsuits or forced courtroom disclosures by the government. Even when the Electronic Freedom Foundation filed a recent FOIA request that generated over 20,000 records related to StingRay, the Justice Department released only a pair of court orders and a handful of heavily redacted documents that didn’t explain when and how the technology was used due to “security concerns.”
Here’s what little we do know: StingRay trackers act as fake cell towers, allowing police investigators to pinpoint the location of a targeted wireless mobile by sucking up phone data such as text messages, emails and cell-site information. When a suspect makes a phone call, the StingRay tricks the cell into sending its signal back to the police, thus preventing the signal from traveling back to the suspect’s wireless carrier. But not only does the StingRay track the targeted cell phone, it also extracts data off potentially thousands of other cell phone users in the area. You don’t need a warrant to use one and they cost anywhere between $60,000 and $175,000 each.
Of course there is resistance. Foreign hackers reportedly sell an underground IMSI tracker to counter the Stingray to anyone who asks for $1000 and German security expert Karsten Nohl released “Catcher Catcher,” a powerful bit of software that monitors a network’s traffic to actually seek out and find a StingRay in use.
And that’s great. Hooray freedom. But according to a police catalogue leaked to The Intercept the Stingray is about as cutting edge as that old Nintendo 64 rotting in your garage.
The catalogue was obtained by The Intercept as part of a large trove of documents originating within the Florida Department of Law Enforcement…The document provides a rare look at the wide range of electronic surveillance tactics used by police and militaries in the U.S. and abroad, offering equipment ranging from black boxes that can monitor an entire town’s cellular signals to microphones hidden in lighters and cameras hidden in trashcans. Markings date it to 2014.
Take for instance this gem:
A note at the top reveals that cellphone users can be “tracked to less than 1 [meter] of accuracy,” a capacity police have often said they “never use.” But that’s kid stuff compared some of the newer toys.
Meet the 3-GN:
This laptop operated behemoth has a maximum output power of 50W, making it comparable in strength to cellular antennae constructed by the likes of AT&T or Verizon. Anyone inside its radius (potentially miles from the box itself) could be subject to invisible surveillance.
But lets say you’re a pig on the go and sitting in your car monitoring an entire town just isn’t enough action for you. By gods your Dad didn’t help you get this job so you could sit on your ass! You want to be on the street and, considering that cops usually can commit rape and suffer no penalties, you are eager to join in on the fun. Meet the “Evolve4-Hand Held Direction Finder”
This East German wet dream actually allows the user to carry a hidden antenna inside his clothing that can be used to track someone’s whereabouts. Don’t forget all the units mentioned above, already sneaky enough, are offered with a wide range of disguises by the manufacturer itself:
This leaked catalog, already two years old, holds dire implications for rebels and insurgents across the country. We are living in an age where cops can scan the cell-phone traffic of an entire town from a van or rig streetlights that track someone’s location while alerting officers on foot of their whereabouts–all without a warrant.
Revolutionaries and Anarchists will need to think deeply on the implications of so wide a surveillance network and perhaps a more primitive “back to basics” approach is in order to evade the snares and snags of Johnny Law. We are two years late on a much bigger chess board than we ever anticipated and there is no telling how much damage has already been done.
As I lean back and sip my beer the irony becomes palatable. We live in a time where every tv and computer screen screams out with people begging to be noticed, to be seen. Protesters march in flashy displays in the hopes that the powerful will become aware of their anger, pay attention to their cries.
Little did they know from handheld devices and equipment disguised as birdhouses they already were.
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