The Associated Press reported about a week ago that the FBI was using “unmarked planes” to conduct surveillances and other activities.This is not breaking news.
The FBI since at least the 70s has used “unmarked” planes to help conduct surveillances among other things. In the 70s, the FBI began establishing dedicated surveillance squads. These squads were used primarily to conduct surveillances of organized crime subjects, but also utilized in other investigations such as espionage, terrorism and kidnappings.
To keep the surveillance squads and their activities secret, offsite locations (away from FBI offices) were procured using fictitious business fronts, the vehicles used did not look like police cars and were registered to fictitious businesses. (This was necessary in some investigations because police were known to be cooperating with the bad guys.) The agents assigned to the squads wore “street clothes” and were allowed to be lax, by Bureau standards, in their grooming.
It became clear that there were situations where aircraft could be helpful in conducting surveillances. In fact there were situations when surveillances were impossible without the aid of aircraft such as watching a ransom drop-site in the middle of open country. The same procedures were used for the aircraft as were used for FBI vehicles – they were registered to fictitious entities and the pilots did not identify themselves as agents.
The use of “unmarked” aircraft has continued and is considered legitimate and legal investigative tool. If aircraft are used to help monitor wiretaps, etc., as the AP has reported, they do so pursuant to court orders and with the knowledge of the courts.
In the interest of full disclosure, the FBI has also used “unmarked” boats for various surreptitious activities. An “unmarked” yacht was used to entertain some of the subjects in the ABSCAM investigation.