• Governor Says No to $11mil for Education, Yes to $30 mil for Children’s Prison in Baltimore

    June 4, 2015 // 3 Comments »

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    Maryland governor Larry Hogan was elected to make the tough choices. In this case, to spend less taxpayer money on schools, and more on prisons for underage offenders from Baltimore.



    Not for Schools

    These good deeds began after Maryland’s state legislature earmarked $68 million for education, $11 million of which was tagged for troubled Baltimore city schools alone. Governor Hogan, however, on his own just cold labeled the money “extra money” and shoved it into the state’s underfunded pension funds, saying “it would be irresponsible not to, and it will not happen on my watch.”

    “Given how the needs of our children have been highlighted by the events of the past few weeks, I hoped that the governor would have agreed with the General Assembly that these dollars are critical for expanded educational opportunities,” Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, supported by the teachers union, said in a statement.

    Hogan accused the teachers union of launching “a heavily financed smear campaign” against him.

    Money for Youth Prison

    The now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t education money was part of about $200 million lawmakers set aside for their top priorities: school funding, preventing a pay cut for state workers and paying for a range of health-care initiatives that include Medicaid coverage for more pregnant women and funding for heroin addiction.

    Governor Larry Hogan, in addition to cutting out that $11 large directly from education funding, also made the tough choice to spend $30 million on a 60-bed jail for Baltimore teenagers who have been charged as adults.

    And who but Larry Hogan, the guy who declared a state of emergency and used the National Guard to place Baltimore under siege following the police murder of Freddie Gray, would know more about Baltimore’s need to lock up more kids?



    Youth Prison Even Needed?

    Actually, Larry Hogan knows very little about Baltimore’s need to lock up more kids. The city’s rate of youths jailed as adults dropped in recent years. State officials said in March that the city detention center holds fewer than 20 minors on any given day.

    But don’t think Larry Hogan isn’t for education:

    A spokesman for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, which runs the jails, said even though the number of youngsters who would use the youth jail facility has declined, his “department is committed to housing juveniles charged as adults in a new building that will include classrooms, program space, and medical and recreation areas. It’s a facility that’s vastly superior to the current location.”

    See how great that is? Rather than providing for better schools that holdout at least the possibility of reducing youth crime, Governor Larry Hogan will instead create more classrooms inside jails.

    BONUS: Hogan’s campaign slogan was “Change Maryland.”



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    Copyright © 2019. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

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    FBI Monitored Peaceful Demos in Baltimore with High-Tech Surveillance Planes

    May 11, 2015 // 8 Comments »

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    The FBI surveilled peaceful protests in Baltimore following the police killing of Freddie Gray, protest acts protected by the First Amendment, from the air, using high-tech monitoring aircraft.

    The surveillance aircraft can be equipped with infrared and other surveillance gear that extend the intrusion into privacy far into unconstitutional territory.

    When violence rocked Baltimore recently, local Police Captain Jeff Long told reporters “When you’ve got something like this, you’ve got people running all over the place, throwing rocks and looting and starting vehicles on fire and destroying vehicles like this, really the best vantage point you can get is from the air.”

    Which is why city and state police took to the air in helicopters and small planes, all clearly marked.


    Eyes in the Skies

    Less obvious was a single engine prop Cessna and a small Cessna jet flying over the city, not during the worst of the violence, but during periods of peaceful protest. Who did they belong to?

    In response to media inquiries, the Baltimore police referred questions to the FBI. The FBI initially refused to comment. They eventually released a statement claiming the aircraft worked for the Bureau, saying also “The aircraft were specifically used to assist in providing high altitude observation of potential criminal activity to enable rapid response by police officers on the ground. The FBI aircraft were not there to monitor lawfully protected first amendment activity.” The local FBI spokesperson also noted any aviation support supplied to local police must be approved at the highest levels of the FBI.

    The aircraft, however, are not owned, overtly at least, by the FBI. Research done in part by the Washington Post shows the ostensible owners as NG Research, located near Manassas Regional Airport, just outside of Washington, DC. Searches of public records revealed little about the company, which could not be reached by the Post.



    Understanding the Technology

    The key to understanding the constitutionality of the FBI’s dragnet search is knowing what sensors were mounted on each aircraft.

    According to Cessna, “when you choose Citation [the jet believed to have been overhead in Baltimore] for your surveillance and patrol aircraft, we customize your jet to fit your exact mission requirements. For example, jets can be equipped with a securely mounted EO/IR device, technology specially suited to carry out territory surveillance work such as border patrol, land-use patrol, and general policing.”

    EO/IR refers to electro-optical and infrared capabilities. In this context the former can be any type of laser or telescopic device used for visible light, the latter measuring “heat,” allowing one to “see” in the dark. Stingrays, electronic devices which can monitor and/or disrupt cell phone communications, can also be mounted on such aircraft.

    The FBI is also known to employ aircraft with the Wescam stabilized surveillance sensor pod, allowing high quality images to be taken under bumpy flight conditions.

    Such technology has been used extensively by the U.S. military in general, and by Special Forces in the particular, in their hunt for terrorists abroad, and represents another example of the weapons of war coming to the Homeland, now aimed at Americans instead of “the enemy.”

    Here’s a sample image via Ars Technica of what a zoomed out nighttime IR image can show:




    ACLU Actions

    The ACLU has filed a request with the FBI to learn what video and cell phone data was collected during the flights.

    It is possible that the FBI was simply duplicating the visual search capabilities likely to have been employed by regular Baltimore cops and their prop aircraft. However, such duplication of effort seems unlikely. One can reasonably suppose the FBI joined the aerial surveillance with something new to bring to the party, such as more advanced observation tech.

    For example, on May 1 and May 2, what is believed to be the FBI Cessna Citation V jet made nighttime flights (path recorded below), orbiting Baltimore at the relatively low altitudes for a jet aircraft of 6,400 and 9,400 feet, based on records from Flightradar24. That action would be consistent with the use of any of the surveillance devices noted above.




    Constitutional Questions

    The constitutional questions are significant.

    Civil libertarians have particular concern about surveillance technology that can gather images across dozens of city blocks, tracking the travel, actions and associations of people under no suspicion of criminal activity.

    “A lot of these technologies sweep very, very broadly, and, at a minimum, the public should have a right to know what’s going on,” said Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst at the ACLU specializing in privacy and technology issues.

    If the FBI was using infrared (IR) devices overhead, that use may have constituted an unlawful search.

    In Kyllo v. United States, 533 U.S. 27 (2001), the Supreme Court held that the use of a thermal imaging, or IR, device from a public vantage point to monitor the radiation of heat from a person’s home was a “search” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment, and thus required a warrant.

    Perhaps the ACLU can check if the FBI was issued warrants for most of the city of Baltimore. And then stick a fork in it people, ’cause this democracy is about done.



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