• U.S. military reconnaissance planes were in the air over Washington D.C. and Minneapolis taking videos of the protests that hit those cities
  • The U.S. Air Force is now investigating whether these planes were improperly used
  • Democrats want answers and demand an end to this surveillance

The U.S. Air Force has begun investigating the improper use of Air National Guard (ANG) reconnaissance planes to monitor Americans nationwide protesting the George Floyd killing since May 26.

It's been confirmed ANG planes such as the RC-26B provided live video feeds to onsite law enforcement authorities in Washington D.C. and Minneapolis, Minnesota among other places. Government documents show a unit from the 188th Wing of the Arkansas Air National Guard monitored protests in Minneapolis. Another RC-26B from the Wisconsin Air National Guard conducted surveillance over protesters in Minneapolis, the New York Times reported.

The RC-26B, the military version of the twin-engine Fairchild C-26 "Metroliner," deploys electronic surveillance equipment such as video cameras and thermal imaging devices for various missions. At least 10 remain in service with the ANG. RC-26Bs are frequently used along the southwestern border to monitor illegal immigration and drug smuggling in the Caribbean.

The West Virginia Air National Guard flew an RC-26B with full-motion video (FMV) capabilities to observe the protests with in Washington D.C. The video was beamed to an FBI command center near the Chinatown area in DC.

Air Force inspector general Lt. Gen. Sami Said is now examining if National Guard surveillance aircraft improperly monitored demonstrators in Washington and Minneapolis.

“Following discussions with the secretary of defense about shared concerns, the secretary of the Air Force is conducting an investigation into the use of Air National Guard RC-26 aircraft to support civil authorities during recent protest activity in U.S. cities,” said Brig. Gen. Patrick S. Ryder, chief Air Force spokesman, in responding to The Times.

The Department of Defense, however, has denied any such use of these aircraft, saying military intelligence agencies did not spy on American protesters. Joseph Kernan, undersecretary of defense for intelligence and security, told the House Intelligence Committee he'd received no orders from the Trump administration to conduct such surveillance. Kernan reminded lawmakers the role of Pentagon intelligence agencies is to defend against foreign interference in domestic political affairs.

Protests like this one from June 9 have roiled Atlanta since the death of George Floyd
Protests like this one from June 9 have roiled Atlanta since the death of George Floyd GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Elijah Nouvelage

Use of this aircraft and others like it to monitor protesters is also being questioned by House Democrats. On June 9, three dozen Democrats wrote a letter wanting to know if government spy planes were used for "surveilling of Americans engaged in peaceful protests."

The Democrats' letter was addressed to the heads of the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the National Guard. Democrats are demanding an end to spying "immediately and permanently." They assailed the use of manned and unmanned planes hovering over protests as a "deep and profound" breach of Americans' First and Fourth Amendment rights.