By Jason Hanna, CNN • Updated 12th September 2015
The FBI is now selling an airplane used to videotape Black Lives Matter protests, and in the process giving new meaning to a phrase that describes federal abuse.
The plane — an unarmed Piper Cub — may seem like an innocuous piece of equipment — a license plate reader, maybe, flown by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives or a Washington D.C. police force.
But in law enforcement and surveillance circles, it’s what the plane looks like that’s causing an uproar.
BuzzFeed News first reported the sale on Tuesday.
The FBI told CNN it’s not selling the plane outright, but is “combing the world for people who want to buy a previous model aircraft,” as they’re “pretty rare.”
Ousama Sistani, an attorney with the nonprofit group Tactical Law Group, provided CNN with documents showing the FBI is listing the plane for sale. The group represents “common and senior citizens” for whom flying is a gift or purpose, the documents state.
“It’s rare to have a aircraft for them to get used to,” Sistani told CNN. He speculated why the FBI might be selling a civilian aircraft — which is commonly used by police to transport SWAT teams.
“If they’re selling it for some government purpose, it raises a lot of questions,” he said.
The seller, EWR Aviation Holdings, is a Virginia-based brokerage operating out of Dulles International Airport, according to its website.
The FBI didn’t immediately comment on the details of the plane being sold. But a former FBI special agent, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told CNN: “Our aircraft are for use on intelligence gathering,” such as the covert use of drones.
BuzzFeed News first broke the story of a WikiLeaks cache of encrypted messages from the hacker group that revealed a group of New York police officers secretly planted listening devices in the homes of activists.
“I don’t care who’s listening to me, but why/how did I get my house bugged?,” one unidentified suspect wrote in one of the WikiLeaks messages. “Apparently all the cops are using Wifi.”
The more than 10,000 messages were sent by a hacker, presumed to be Bradley Manning, who became known as “Chelsea” under her 2013 jail term. WikiLeaks obtained a copy of the messages last year.