International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI) catchers have remained one of the State’s more closely guarded secrets. In order for local law enforcers to gain access to one of the devices the Federal Bureau of Investigations requires them to sign a nondisclosure agreement. The FBI is even willing to drop cases rather than reveal how the surveillance devices work. But as Benjamin Franklin said, “Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead.” With multiple agencies having access to information about IMSI catchers it was inevitable that information such as the user manuals would leak:
HARRIS CORP.’S STINGRAY surveillance device has been one of the most closely guarded secrets in law enforcement for more than 15 years. The company and its police clients across the United States have fought to keep information about the mobile phone-monitoring boxes from the public against which they are used. The Intercept has obtained several Harris instruction manuals spanning roughly 200 pages and meticulously detailing how to create a cellular surveillance dragnet.
I haven’t read through the manuals yet but the highlights posted by The Intercept shows the software tools provided with the catchers to be robust and so simple even a cop can use them.
One might be compelled to ask why the State is so dead set on keeping this technology secret. Especially when anybody with the money can acquire one through the black market. The answer to that question is that the State is like any other criminal organization in that it tries to keep its operations as secret as possible. Sure, it maintains a public face just as Al Capone maintained soup kitchens. But the nitty gritty stuff is always hidden behind a veil of fancy words like “classified”. This is because the State knows what it’s doing is morally repugnant and wouldn’t be enjoyed by the people who think the State serves them. Fortunately the State’s secrets always leak out eventually.