A Whistleblower Just Exposed How the Government Spies on Your Cell Phone

December 21, 2015   |   Derrick Broze

A new whistleblower has leaked a catalog of cell phone surveillance devices used by the military, intelligence agencies, and local police departments, including the controversial ‘Stingray’ spying tool.

Derrick Broze
December 21, 2015

(ANTIMEDIA) United States — The release of a secret U.S. government catalog of cell phone surveillance devices has revealed the names and abilities of dozens of surveillance tools previously unknown to the public. The catalog shines a light on well-known devices like the Stingray and DRT box, as well as new names like Cellbrite, Yellowstone, Blackfin, Maximus, Stargrazer, and Cyberhawk.

The Intercept reports:

“Within the catalogue, the NSA is listed as the vendor of one device, while another was developed for use by the CIA, and another was developed for a special forces requirement. Nearly a third of the entries focus on equipment that seems to have never been described in public before.”

Anti Media has reported extensively on the Stingray, the brand name of a popular cell-site simulator manufactured by the Harris Corporation. The Electronic Frontier Foundation describes Stingrays as “a brand name of an IMSI (International Mobile Subscriber Identity) Catcher targeted and sold to law enforcement. A Stingray works by masquerading as a cell phone tower – to which your mobile phone sends signals to every 7 to 15 seconds whether you are on a call or not – and tricks your phone into connecting to it.”

As a result, whoever is in possession of the Stingray can figure out who, when, and to where you are calling, the precise location of every device within the range, and with some devices, even capture the content of your conversations.

Both the Harris Corp. and the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) require police to sign non-disclosure agreements (NDA) related to the use of the devices. Through these NDAs local police departments have become subordinate to Harris, and even in court cases in front of a judge, are not allowed to speak on the details of their arrangements. Due to this secrecy, very little has been known about how exactly the Stingrays work.

The bit of publicly available information was disclosed through open records requests and lawsuits filed by journalists and researchers. This new catalog provides even more detail about how the devices operate.

We already knew that Stingrays drain the battery of a targeted device, as well as raise signal strength. We also knew that as long as your phone is on, it could be targeted. Some newer details include the fact that the Stingray I and II will not work if the user is “engaged in a call.” Also, the device can gather data from phones within a 200 meter radius. And the next generation Hailstorm device is even capable of cracking encryption on the newer 4G LTE networks.

A number of the devices in the catalog are Digital Receiver Technology (DRT) boxes, also known as dirt boxes, which can be installed in planes for aerial surveillance. DRT was recently purchased by Boeing. We first learned of dirt boxes in late 2014, when the Wall Street Journal revealed a cell phone monitoring program operated by the U.S. Marshals Service, using Cessna planes mounted with Stingrays. AntiMedia has also reported on surveillance planes equipped with thermal imaging technology.

Other devices include:

  • Cellbrite: “a portable, handheld, field proven forensic system for the quick extraction and analysis of 95% cell phones, smart phones and PDA devices,” capable of extracting “information such as phone book, pictures, video, text messages, and call logs.”
  • Kingfish: a Stingray-like device that is “portable enough to be carried around in a backpack.”
  • Stargrazer: “an Army system developed to deny, degrade and/or disrupt a targeted adversary’s command and control (C2) system,” which “can jam a handset and capture its metadata at the same time it pinpoints your target’s location. But watch out — the Stargazer may jam all the other phones in the area too — including your own.”
  • Cyberhawk: which is capable of gathering “phonebook, names, SMS, media files, text, deleted SMS, calendar items and notes” from 79 cell phones.

Jennifer Lynch, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told the Intercept that the use of these tools is part of the militarization of the police in the U.S.: “We’ve seen a trend in the years since 9/11 to bring sophisticated surveillance technologies that were originally designed for military use — like Stingrays or drones or biometrics — back home to the United States.”

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the FBI, NSA, and U.S. military declined to leave a comment with the Intercept regarding the catalog. Marc Raimondi, a Justice Department spokesperson, told the Intercept that the Department “uses technology in a manner that is consistent with the requirements and protections of the Constitution, including the Fourth Amendment, and applicable statutory authorities.”

The Intercept notes that Raimondi worked for Harris Corp. for six years prior to working for the DOJ.

Secrecy surrounding the use of these devices has been a contentious topic of debate for several years. Truth In Media recently reported that four members of the House Oversight Committee sent letters to 24 federal agencies including the Department of State and the Securities and Exchange Commission, demanding answers regarding policies for using the controversial surveillance technology.

House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaf­fetz, ranking member Elijah Cummings, and Reps. Will Hurd (R-Texas) and Robin Kelly (D-Ill.), as members of the committee’s IT subcommittee, issued requests for information related to the potential use of stingrays.

Chaf­fetz also recently introduced the Stingray Privacy Act, which would expand newly established warrant requirements for the Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security to all federal, state, and local agencies that use the cell-site simulators.

In September, the DHS joined the DOJ by announcing warrant requirements for the use of Stingray equipment, but those rule changes have come under fire for possible loopholes which may allow the continued use of surveillance equipment without a warrant.

“Because cell-site simulators can collect so much information from innocent people, a simple warrant for their use is not enough,” Jennifer Lynch told the Intercept. “Police officers should be required to limit their use of the device to a short and defined period of time. Officers also need to be clear in the probable cause affidavit supporting the warrant about the device’s capabilities.”

At this point, it’s painfully obvious that America is the home of the Police-Surveillance State. Awakened hearts and minds everywhere should continue to educate themselves and their communities about the dangers of these tools. We should also support initiatives to create technology that can defend against the prying eyes and ears of Big Brother. Privacy is a dying notion in a nation of fools determined to be safe rather than liberated. If you give a damn, now is the time to stand up and be heard.


This article (A Whistleblower Just Exposed How the Government Spies on Your Cell Phone) is free and open source. You have permission to republish this article under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Derrick Broze and theAntiMedia.org. Anti-Media Radio airs weeknights at 11pm Eastern/8pm Pacific. If you spot a typo, email edits@theantimedia.org.

Author: Derrick Broze

Derrick Broze joined Anti-Media as an independent journalist in July of 2014. His topics of interest include solutions to the police state, the surveillance state, economic inequality, attacks on Native communities, and oppression in all its forms. He was born in Houston, Texas.

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