EPIC v. Army - Surveillance Blimps
- EPIC Obtains Reports on Runaway Army Blimp: As the result of a FOIA Request, EPIC has obtained nearly two hundred pages of reports about the Army surveillance blimp that broke free and crash landed in Pennsylvania. In 2015 the blimp roamed the East Coast before its crash and caused blackouts across the Pennsylvania countryside as it downed power lines. The documents obtained by EPIC include technical reports, a field investigation, and maintenance worksheets. The reports reveal the tail of the blimp failed, raising questions about the government's maintenance of the controversial and very expensive surveillance program. Through an earlier FOIA lawsuit, EPIC uncovered details about the plan to deploy the surveillance blimp over Washington, DC. The Runaway Blimp launched an Internet meme. (Jun. 7, 2017)
- Army Loses Surveillance Blimp; Blimp Roaming the East Coast: One of the military's controversial surveillance blimps has broken free from its tether in Maryland and is now drifting over Pennsylvania. According to a report, the blimp is now floating at 16,000 feet and dragging a 6,700 foot cable. Through a FOIA lawsuit filed earlier this year, EPIC uncovered details about the Army's plan to fly two "JLENS" blimps over the Washington, DC area. The several thousand documents uncovered by EPIC describe the use of JLENS, as well as the Army's relationship with the contractor Raytheon, which has proposed a video surveillance capability. (Oct. 28, 2015) More top news »
On November 1, 2013, EPIC filed a FOIA request with the Department of the Army for records related to a blimp-mounted surveillance system called "JLENS" (Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor Systems). The JLENS system, manufactured by the defense contractor Raytheon, consists of a two-part system. The first part supports persistent, 360-degree radar-based surveillance over hundreds of miles. The other part is capable of firing missiles at targets being tracked by the radar surveillance system. Raytheon describes JLENS as "two tethered, 74-meter helium-filled aerostats connected to mobile mooring stations and a communications and processing group. The aerostats fly as high as 10,000 feet above sea level and can remain aloft and operational for up to 30 days. One aerostat carries a surveillance radar with 360-degree surveillance capability; the other aerostat carries a fire control radar.”
Additionally, Raytheon has successfully tested JLENS' ability to support additional surveillance equipment in the form of a live video feed. JLENS operators can observe surface moving targets in real time using a Raytheon Company MTS-B Multi-Spectral Targeting System - a “long-range surveillance, target acquisition, tracking, range-finding and laser designation for the HELLFIRE missile and all tri-service and NATO laser-guided munitions."
The Army plans to test the surveillance capabilities of the JLENS system by surveilling the Washington, D.C. area for three years. The Army's test is scheduled to begin in the fall of 2014.
EPIC has a long history of using the FOIA and other administrative procedure laws to assess aerial surveillance by the federal government. In 2005, EPIC first publicized the impact of aerial drones (or UAVs) on citizen privacy, specifically in the area of border surveillance. EPIC explained, "the use of UAVs gives the federal government a new capability to monitor citizens clandestinely, while the effectiveness of the expensive, crash-prone surveillance planes in border patrol operations has not been proved."
On February 24, 2012, EPIC, joined by over 100 organizations, experts, and members of the public, submitted a petition to the FAA requesting a notice and comment rulemaking under the Administrative Procedure Act on the privacy impact of drones. The petition pointed out that the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (signed on February 14, 2012) provides an opportunity for the Agency to address the privacy questions raised by drone usage.
Additionally, EPIC has worked to establish privacy safeguards from satellite locational tracking (specifically, GPS tracking). In 2013, EPIC testified before the Texas State Assembly on a privacy bill for telephone location data. EPIC's testimony discussed GPS tracking and the need for clear rules governing location surveillance that satisfy Fourth Amendment standards, as well as the importance of public reporting and accountability.
The introduction of JLENS-equipped surveillance blimps into the Washington, D.C. airspace may pose a significant threat to privacy. EPIC's goal in the FOIA request and subsequent FOIA lawsuit is to determine what surveillance data the Army plans to collect during its 3-year JLENS test, as well as how the Army plans to process, store, redact, or delete that data.
On November 1, 2013, EPIC submitted a FOIA request asking for:
- 1) All technical specifications, contracts, and statements of work for JLENS systems purchased for or contracted for by the Department of the Army, including but not limited to contracts with Raytheon;
- 2) All instructions, policies, and procedures concerning the use of JLENS to collect, store, transmit, reproduce, retain, degrade, or delete images and sounds;
- 3) All documents detailing the technical specifications of visual and auditory surveillance hardware on JLENS aerostats; and
- 4) All contracts and statements of work entered into by the Department of the Army for JLENS hardware, software, or training that concerns the ability of JLENS to collect, obscure, degrade, store, transmit, reproduce, retain, or delete images and sounds.
- Supplemental Release Letter (Apr. 1, 2015)
- Supplemental Release - Engineering Office Contracts (Apr. 1, 2015)
- Supplemental Release - Procurement Contracts (Apr. 1, 2015)
- Part 1
- Part 2
- Part 3
- Part 4
- Part 5
- Part 6
- Part 7
- Part 8
- Part 9
- Part 10
- Part 11
- Part 12
- Part 13
- Part 14
- Supplemental Release - Product Office (Apr. 1, 2015)
- Army Documents Release (Part 1) (Oct. 9, 2014)
- Army Documents Release (Part 2) (Oct. 9, 2014)
- Army Documents Release (Part 3) (Oct. 9, 2014)
- EPIC's FOIA Request to the Army (Nov. 1, 2013)
- Army's Acknowledgment Letter (Nov. 5, 2013)
- EPIC's FOIA Appeal to the Army (Feb. 5, 2014)
- Army's Second Letter (Feb. 18, 2014)
- Army's Third Letter (Feb. 19, 2014)
- First Interim Release (Aug. 19, 2014)
- Second Interim Release (Sep. 19, 2014)
- Complaint (May. 6, 2014)
- Joint Status Report (Aug. 8, 2014)
- Joint Status Report (Oct. 24, 2014)
- Department of Army Motion for Summary Judgment (Apr. 3, 2015)
- Stipulation of Dismissal (Apr. 22, 2015)
- Dan Froomkin, Billion Dollar Surveillance Blimp to Launch Over Maryland, Intercept, Dec. 17, 2014.
- Jeremy Bender, The Army Is Launching A Pair Of Billion-Dollar Surveillance Blimps Over I-95, Business Insider, Dec. 17, 2014.
- Bonnie Berkowitz, Todd Lindeman and Gene Thorp, Surveillance Aircraft Flying High Above Maryland, Washington Post, Jan. 22, 2014.
- Craig Timberg, Blimplike surveillance craft set to deploy over Maryland heighten privacy concerns, The Washington Post, Jan. 22, 2014.
- Matthew Hay Brown, Officials present radar blimp plans for Aberdeen Proving Ground, The Baltimore Sun, Jan. 16, 2014.
- NBC Washington, Massive Blimps Could Soon Conduct 360-Degree Surveillance Over D.C. Area, Jul. 25, 2013.
- Darren Orf, JLENS the Military Surveillance Airship Is Ready for Action, Jul. 24, 2013.
- Susan Berfield, Raytheon Missile-Seeking Blimp to Get test Run Guarding Capital, Bloomberg, Feb. 28, 2013.
Share this page:
Subscribe to the EPIC Alert
The EPIC Alert is a biweekly newsletter highlighting emerging privacy issues.