- The Washington Times - Friday, June 1, 2018

Devices known as “Stingrays” capable of intercepting cellphone calls and text messages were found operating near the White House and other sensitive places around D.C., a top Department of Homeland Security official wrote in a letter released Friday.

Federal officials made the discovery while conducting a pilot project last year meant to identify and investigate activity around the nation’s capital involving the surveillance tools, also known as International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI) catchers, Christopher Krebs, the acting head of the DHS National Protection and Programs Directorate, wrote Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat.

The pilot project uncovered “anomalous activity that appeared consistent with IMSI catcher technology” within the D.C. region, Mr. Krebs wrote, “including locations in proximity to potentially sensitive facilities like the White House.”

DHS was unable to detect who was operating the devices or their purposes, and investigations were subsequently launched by law enforcement and counterintelligence agencies, he wrote in response to an inquiry from Mr. Wyden.

“The news of a possible foreign stingray near the White House is of particular concern giving reports that the president isn’t even using a secure phone to protect his calls,” Mr. Wyden said in a statement. “The cavalier attitude toward our national security appears to be coming from the top down.”

Designed to mimic legitimate cellular towers, rudimentary Stingrays work by forcing a connection with phones within range, in turn collecting information about nearby devices including their geographic locations and metadata about the calls they’ve made. Advanced IMSI catchers have greater capabilities, however, including the ability to alter communications and intercept the contents of unencrypted phone calls and text messages, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights group that has lobbied against their use by law enforcement.

Mr. Trump has used cellphone that lack security features meant to shield his communications from eavesdroppers, according to recent news reports, spurring Sen. Tom Carper, Delaware Democrat, to press the Pentagon last week for information about the measure in place to protect the president’s device.

“The White House is confident in the security protocols in place for the president’s use of communications devices,” a senior White House official told ABC News last month.

• Andrew Blake can be reached at ablake@washingtontimes.com.

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