With people protesting on American soil and numerous aircraft whizzing above, this past week has seen an unusual surge of domestic aerial activity from the U.S. military and law enforcement agencies following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
In an almost act of surveilling the surveillance back, BuzzFeed News' Peter Aldhous mapped flights by local police, state and federal law enforcement and military planes to create a bird's-eye view of the aerial activity against the protests.
The data was gathered from 7 p.m. CT on Friday, May 29 to 7 p.m. Central Time on Sunday, May, 31.
Tracking the routes by using signals
In order to collect the data, Peter Aldhous used information on the operators in the Federal Aviation Administration's registration database and traced their routes by using data compiled at the crowdsourced flight-tracking website ADS-B Exchange, which is, by site's definition, home to "world's largest co-op of unfiltered flight data."
Peter Aldous wrote that "ADS-B Exchange doesn’t follow requests to block aircraft from being tracked, so it can give a more complete picture of surveillance activity."
Moreover, aircraft operated by the U.S. military were also flagged reportedly, which was how BuzzFeed News was able to record all the flights over the country.
Aircraft activity over the protests
The visuals showed the most intense aircraft activity over large demonstrations, some examples being aircraft such as NYPD helicopters, and a Customs and Border Protection Multi-Role Enforcement Aircraft, which is a highly capable spy plane.
You can head out here to find the responsive maps which you can zoom and click on flight pats to learn more about any specific aircraft.
The aim is not collecting intelligence
Between a mail exchange between Minnesota National Guard spokesperson Blair Heusdens and BuzzFeed News, the former denied that the helicopters were there to collect intelligence on protestors. That is a reportedly prohibited activity for the National Guard.
He stated, "Currently we are performing incident awareness and assessment observations in conjunction with civilian law enforcement. As long as Minnesota Guardsmen are performing important, and potentially dangerous missions we will use any asset available to keep them safe."
H/T Buzzfeed News