The Department of Homeland Security says it has identified suspected rogue cell tower simulators — popularly known as Stingrays — in Washington. (U.S. Patent and Trademark Office via AP, File)
The U.S. government has acknowledged the existence in Washington D.C. of what appear to be devices that could be used by foreign spies and criminals to track individual cellphones and intercept calls and messages, the Associated Press reported Tuesday.
In a March 26 letter to Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., the Department of Homeland Security admitted that it “has observed anomalous activity in the [Washington D.C. area] that appears to be consistent with International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI) catchers.” DHS added that it had not determined the type of devices in use or who might have been operating them, nor did it say how many it detected or where.
However, a DHS official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the agency’s reply to Wyden has not been publicly released told AP that the devices were detected in a 90-day trial that began in January 2017 with equipment from a Las Vegas-based DHS contractor, ESD America. The CEO of ESD America, Les Goldsmith, said his company has a relationship with DHS but would not comment further.
The use of what are known as cellphone-site simulators by foreign powers has long been a concern, but American intelligence and law enforcement agencies — which use such eavesdropping equipment themselves — have been silent on the issue until now.
The agency’s response, obtained by the AP from Wyden’s office, suggests little has been done about such equipment, known popularly as Stingrays after a brand common among U.S. police departments. The Federal Communications Commission, which regulates the nation’s airwaves, formed a task force on the subject four years ago, but it never produced a report and no longer meets regularly.
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