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DES MOINES - The FBI ought to be embarrassed by revelations it is using aircraft registered to dummy companies to spy on American communities, Sen. Chuck Grassley said Wednesday.
Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has raised concerns about what the agency is doing to safeguard the privacy rights of people surveilled who are not the target of FBI investigations.
He wants the FBI to come clean about media reports that the flights over 30-plus cities in 11 states and Washington over the past month are part of a civilian air force the agency is operating through fictitious companies.
'That would make anyone a bit uncomfortable,” Grassley said about the single-engine planes the FBI has used to fly more than 100 low-level flights.
'It's not a secret that the FBI uses planes to find and catch criminals. They've done that for years,” Grassley said.
The FBI has used aircraft to support ground operations. According to an Associated Press investigation, at least 115 planes, including 90 Cessna aircraft, were mentioned in a federal budget document from 2009.
The aircraft Grassley is raising questions about are equipped with high-tech cameras and, in some cases, technology capable of tracking thousands of cellphones.
'We don't know what technology they are using and what they are doing with information on people who have nothing to do with their operation,” Grassley said in a weekly conference call with Iowa reporters. 'We also need to know what policies are in place to protect the privacy of Americans and guarantee the program is not being abused.”
In a letter to FBI Director James B. Comey, Jr., Grassley asked for the agency to explain scope of the operations, what types of surveillance equipment were and what legal authorities, if any, are being relied upon in carrying out these operations.
'No one finds fault with them for pursuing criminals,” Grassley said. 'Everyone expects them to protect us, but there are 4th Amendment privacy rights that we ought to guarantee that the law is being followed and the Constitution is being followed.”
Grassley's letter can be found at http://www.grassley.senate.gov/news/news-releases/grassley-wants-more-details-fbi-aerial-surveillance-program.