Reporters use ADS-B Data to Uncover the Role US Private Contractors Play in East African Air Operations

The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) have recently run a story about how they have used ADS-B aircraft data to uncover the role that US civilian aircraft contractors are playing in the East African “kill chain”. The investigation began over concerns that while civilian contractors do not pull the trigger, they may be becoming too involved in the process of determining exactly who will be killed in combat via data collection and analysis through their high tech surveillance aircraft. In the article they also note how many of these civilian contractors hide their true owners behind a chain of multiple LLC companies, thus reducing any accountability for their actions.

OCCRP also supports the Dictator Alert project which we have posted about in the past. In a related article titled “Mapping the Secret Skies: Lessons Learned From Flight Data” Emmanuel Freudenthal who helped setup the Dictator Alert project discusses how censorship free ADS-B tracking is helping journalists uncover new stories. In the article he notes how he uses uncensored ADS-B data together with the leaked Paradise Papers to reveal the true owners of aircraft hidden behind multiple LLC and shell companies. Regarding the “kill chain” article Emmanuel’s post also explains how the story came to be:

An upcoming OCCRP story focuses on U.S. surveillance flights over Somalia. The U.S. military operates out of a small air base at Manda Bay just over the border in Kenya. We had a tip that it would be worth checking on planes in the area, so we set up an antenna nearby, which fed us information about planes taking off and landing from the base.

We eventually had to take down the antenna due to security concerns. But we managed to collect data on a number of planes that had been purchased by obscure shell companies and modified with advanced surveillance equipment before being sent to Kenya.

Why is this article posted on this blog? ADS-B data from aircraft is most often received these days via RTL-SDR dongles due to their low cost, so it is interesting to see to what extent cheap SDRs may be affecting the world via this type of reporting.

We note that ADS-B Exchange is the only censorship free ADS-B data aggregator available. All other online flight trackers censor flights from the government as well as from some private jets that may be owned by high profile company directors or in some cases dictators. The argument for censorship is that ADS-B data collection may be made illegal otherwise.

In a previous post we also discussed how censorship free ADS-B data from ADS-B Exchange revealed how military Blackhawk helicopters and Predator drones were used for surveillance during the early Black Lives Matter protests. 

Emmanuel installs an ADS-B antenna in Liberia

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