'Concerns' Prompt Air Force to Probe Use of Secretive Planes

Aircraft were deployed over DC, Minneapolis protests
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 19, 2020 6:19 AM CDT

(Newser) – The Air Force says its inspector general is investigating the use of Air National Guard reconnaissance aircraft during protests in Minneapolis and Washington, DC. Air Force spokesman Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder says the investigation is being conducted after discussions about "shared concerns" with Defense Secretary Mark Esper. The investigation comes after lawmakers voiced concerns that the RC-26 surveillance aircraft may have been improperly used, potentially violating the civil liberties of protesters, the New York Times reports. The Air National Guard has 11 of the aircraft, and they are normally used for drug enforcement and border patrol operations, reports the Air Force Times.

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Documents seen by the Times show that an RC-26B from the West Virginia Air National Guard was deployed to observe protesting in Washington on June 2. Aircraft from Arkansas and Wisconsin were used in Minneapolis. Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, who serves as an RC-26 pilot in the Wisconsin Air National Guard, says he flew two night missions over Minneapolis during protests earlier this month, sending video feeds to law enforcement agencies. "We don’t gather human intelligence on what the protesters are doing," the Republican says. "We don’t collect cellphone data. We don’t harvest or analyze any data. We don’t do any of that." In a June 6 tweet, he complained that the planes had been grounded after Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy said he found the use of surveillance aircraft to monitor protests "very troubling." (Read more Air National Guard stories.)

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