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The FBI's secret Air Force over Baltimore, how big is it?

Gerry Bello

A Washington Post article on May 5 stated that that the FBI had conducted secret surveillance flights over Baltimore during the recent protests against the police murder of Freddie Gray. Ars Technica also covered the story and covered aviation enthusiasts efforts to track the aircraft's flight patterns, registration and speculated some on their capabilities. The revealed result was the outer edge of a secret air force that rivals size of those belonging to small European nations.

This air force is shared with not only with other federal police agencies but apparently with the CIA. It's exact size is secret and it's aircraft and budget are off the books. It has existed in this secret form since at least 1969. It shares some of the same front companies that the CIA uses for it's extraordinary rendition flights, AKA the torture taxi. Secrecy and apparent tampering with public records hides the true dimensions of this secret air force.

Ars Technica's article identified a single engine, six seat Cessna 206H (tail number N728MP) ostensibly owned by the National Aircraft Leasing Corporation circling Baltimore on April 29. The article speculated that the aircraft might be equipped with advanced sensors supplied by a subsidiary of L-3 communications, which manufactures body cameras and was implicated in the Abu-Gharib torture scandal.

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) records show 2 Cessna 206H's owned by National Aircraft Leasing Corporation (also listed in the database as National Aircraft Leasing Corp) along with 2 older Cessna 206Bs, 14 Cessna 182, 1 Cessna 208 and a twin engine Cessna Citation V, a model whose primary institutional purchasers are the US Army and Marine Corps.

The National Aircraft Leasing Corporation has been operating Cessna 206Bs for the FBI since at least 2006 when one collided with a ground vehicle at 5 mph while taxing toward a runway in Oregon. It's entire fleet of Cessna 206Bs was acquired between 2003 and 2005. Government Contract records show the FBI purchasing 15 Cessna 206H in April as part of an Indefinite Quantity Indefinite Delivery contract signed in 2014. Curiously the contract, government number DJF-14-1200, is for support of a Terrorist Screening Center with 16 full time employees from various agencies. There is no mention of aviation in the contract. The Cessna 206Hs are not listed in the FAA database as belonging to either the FBI or National Aviation Leasing.

The FAA database claims that the FBI owns only 7 aircraft, 1 Cessna 208, 1 Twin turboprop Cessna 404, a single Cessna 172 (America's Chevy of the Skies) and 4 Vietnam era UH-1Hs. The FBI's web page tells a different story as it advertises pilot jobs on it's fleet of 8 UH-60 Blackhawks. These are used to transport the 90 man FBI Hostage Rescue Team, which is the FBI's Delta Force and should not be confused with the 40 man SWAT teams deployed by each of its 56 field offices. The Blackhawks are not listed in the FAA's database.

Aside from National Aircraft Leasing, the other private company mentioned in both the Washington Post and Ars Technica articles is called NG Research. They operate only 5 aircraft, 4 Cessna 182s and a single Cessna 206B. Neither company has a contract or has received payments from the FBI that can be publicly accessed. Both companies are chartered in Delaware and seem to exist as legal fictions in a lawyer's filing cabinet. National Aircraft Leasing has existed under various names there since 1974. Aircraft registration information that was suddenly removed from the FAA's database while this article was being researched (Hi NSA guys!) shows the company originally existing in what is now the Fifth Third Bank tower in Chicago's Loop. It seems to have moved in 1974 as the Watergate scandal unfolded and was not mentioned in the Church Committee hearings.

At least one payment was made to National Aircraft Leasing by the federal government on behalf of the US Marshall's witness protection program for $25,000 for a flight from San Diego to St. Paul. That transaction appears to have been removed from publicly accessible databases during the research for this article. This was not the only secret flight National Aircraft Leasing made. According an article by Doug Willis in the May 2008 edition of Air Forces Monthly, at least one plane ostensibly owned by them, a Gulfstream V (tail number N596GA, manufacturers serial number 596) was used in extraordinary rendition flights by the CIA. The aircraft had been purchased by the Air Force and used by the US Marshal's service prior to becoming a tool for the commission of war crimes.

Disappearances of records from the FAA's database if they may relate to secret state police or intelligence activities are commonplace. At least three aviation companies reported in the press to have been involved with CIA programs, are known to still exist, and are known to own aircraft, and in some cases have been listed as defendants is human rights suits brought by the ACLU, appear to have no aircraft actually registered to them.

A Justice Department Officer of the Inspector General audit of the FBI's aviation program was redacted to the point that the budget, number and types of aircraft and differing kinds of missions could not be discerned. Unlike other redacted public documents, this document did not cite the subsection of the Freedom of Information Act that the reviewer claimed gave them the statutory authority to make each redaction. It is simply mostly black.

What the mainstream media reported without knowing it is that amateur aviation enthusiasts discovered the FBI's secret air force while it was using cellular capture technology and military grade infrared sensors to assist the Baltimore police in suppressing protests against police murder. That same air force is so secret the FBI does not provably own it, and the parts of the air force that can be found are larger than the air force of Lithuania. While the history of the FBI's secret air force goes back to at least the Vietnam era, the technology seems to be more advanced. As the public interest grows, existing documents seem to vanish. The paperwork patterns follow the same trails that the CIA has used over the same decades to fight secret wars.

The piece that does not fit is Baltimore. The sensors were invented for Afghanistan, the aircraft for Vietnam and the cold war, and the methods for secret wars in Latin America. The military target of the military grade secret air force was Americans protesting in Baltimore, an hour's drive from the Nation's Capital.