The FBI’s Air Force Secret Baltimore Protest Surveillance Footage Released

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If Netflix crashes again tonight, and you’re too bored to sleep, I’d suggest watching all 18 hours of the FBI’s surveillance footage from the Baltimore riots of 2015. The newly released video is–simply because of its existence–important.

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[Scroll Down for Video]

The protests in Baltimore that followed the death of Freddie Grey were epic. This is the early days of the Black Lives Matter rioting, and there were businesses burned and looted, and all sorts of urban chaos. Just the sort of thing the FBI likes to keep tabs on.

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And keep tabs on it, they did. They had traditional manned aircraft in the air, and are rumored to have been flying drones. A Freedom of Information Act filed by the ACLU secured the release of this footage.

The videos date from April 29 to May 3 of 2015. Though the images are not sharp enough to make out faces, the footage is compelling. There are 18 hours of raw video available at the FBI’s website.

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Few people knew the FBI had been conducting aerial surveillance. The FBI planes were registered under shell corporation to throw off suspicion. No one is quite sure how the FBI intended to use the footage, or if they have.

The Baltimore protests were in response to the death of Freddie Grey died in April of 2015. Grey died in police custody while he was being transported in a van. Grey was picked up because he was carrying a switchblade. He died from injuries to his spinal cord–injuries that he sustained while in the back of the police van. All of the officers involved have been cleared of wrong-doing.

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This isn’t the first time the FBI’s planes have made the news. In the 1970s, the FBI bought surplus Army planes left over from the Vietnam war.

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“The FBI has provided absolutely no justification for establishing its own air force,” Representative Les Aspin, a Democrat from Wisconsin, said. “The bureau ought to get out of the air power business as soon as possible.”

It is obvious now that they didn’t.

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“It’s strictly an experimental thing,” the Bureau told the press back in 1975. “But we think the plane could be very effective in trailing cars involved in extortion or kidnapping plots, for example, or in rescuing kidnapping victims.”

Or keeping tabs on the protestors. Or were they watching the police?