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Bombshell report details dozens of secret devices U.S. Government uses to track cellphones

Updated 4 years ago
Published Dec 17th, 2015 3:58PM EST
Government Surveillance

Though Edward Snowden’s first revelations regarding NSA surveillance surfaced more than two years ago, government surveillance remains a hot-button and controversial topic because we’re still learning about the full extent of spy agencies’ tracking and eavesdropping capabilities.

The latest news surrounding NSA, and in a broader sense – governmental surveillance, comes from a fascinating new report from The Intercept which details and catalogs an extensive list of devices the military and U.S. government agencies use to listen in on cell phone conversations, jam a phone, and even track individual user locations. Some devices, a few of which are small enough to be carried in a backpack or even on someone’s person, can track a target’s location even when they’re not making a call.

The catalog itself, which was provided to The Intercept by a source within the intelligence community, lists out dozens of devices used to keep tabs on targets. While some devices are purportedly for military-only use, others are reportedly already being used by local police forces across various parts of the country.

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“The catalogue includes details on the Stingray, a well-known brand of surveillance gear, as well as Boeing ‘dirt boxes’ and dozens of more obscure devices that can be mounted on vehicles, drones, and piloted aircraft,” the report reads. “Some are designed to be used at static locations, while others can be discreetly carried by an individual. They have names like Cyberhawk, Yellowstone, Blackfin, Maximus, Cyclone, and Spartacus. 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.”

Also interesting is that the devices are exorbitantly priced. For instance, a REBUS, a vehicular ground based geo-location tool, costs $152,000.

As for what the devices are and how they work, well, it’s pretty straight forward. The devices effectively mimic the cell phone towers of nationwide carriers like AT&T and Verizon. Once operational, a user connects to the ‘network’, thereby providing government agencies with a line in on both a user’s location. The Intercept adds “there are also indications that cell-site simulators may be able to monitor calls and text messages.”

Below is a catalog excerpt which shows how detailed the report is. In short, it’s a definite must-read.

Make sure to hit the source links below for the full run-down on what some of these devices are capable of and how they’re being used by various government agencies.

Yoni Heisler Contributor

Yoni Heisler has been writing about Apple and the tech industry at large for over 15 years. A life long Mac user and Apple expert, his writing has appeared in Edible Apple, Network World, MacLife, Macworld UK, and TUAW. When not analyzing the latest happenings with Apple, Yoni enjoys catching Improv shows in Chicago, playing soccer, and cultivating new TV show addictions.