Feds have discovered some sophisticated surveillance devices that reportedly intercept cellphones near the White House and other sensitive locations in the DC area last year, a new report said Friday.
A probe by Department of Homeland Security discovered evidence of the surveillance devices, called IMSI catchers, as part of federal testing last year, according to a letter from DHS to Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) on May 22, the Washington Post reported.
DHS didn’t say who was behind the cyber-snooping, but the discovery backs up a body of research that foreign intelligence agencies use sophisticated interception technology to spy on US officials.
Experts told the paper that IMSI catchers — often known by one brand name, StingRay — are used by Chinese and Russian intelligence agencies, among others.
“This admission from DHS bolsters my concern about stingrays and other spying devices being used to spy on Americans’ phones,” Wyden said in a statement Thursday.
“Given the reports of rogue spying devices being identified near the White House and other government facilities, I fear that foreign intelligence services could target the president and other senior officials.”
The devices work by simulating cell towers that can trick nearby phones into connecting, allowing the IMSI catchers to collect calls, texts and other data, the paper reported.
“For any large intelligence agency, the United States, especially now, is a high-value target,” Thomas Rid, a political science professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, told the DC paper.
“They get paid to go after high-value targets. It’s their job. … It’s a complete no-brainer.”
The revelation follows reports that President Trump uses a cellphone to tweet that lacks sophisticated security features designed to ensure privacy.
Aides have urged the president to swap out the Twitter phone on a monthly basis, but the president has resisted, telling them it was “too inconvenient,” an administration official told Politico.