How a Jailbird Con Artist Uncovered a Secret FBI Surveillance Tool

By Kate Knibbs on at

A disgraced lawyer, sitting in jail, obsessed with a kooky theory that the government tracked him by sending secret rays into his house... ends up discovering a secret government mobile phone tracking programme. Sounds like bizarre noir, right? But it’s true.

It happened to Daniel Rigmaiden, who found out that the government had used Stingrays—covert surveillance devices that act like a fake mobile phone towers—to catch him running a fake tax return scheme. He’s the guy who brought Stingrays to light. Rigmaiden dug through government documents and discovered that law enforcement all over the country were using these devices, and he did it from his jail cell. Then, he wrote a meticulously researched memo about the secret program that tipped off the American Civil Liberties Union.

WNYC talked to Rigmaiden about how he figured it out. How he doggedly pursued the idea that the government must’ve tracked him in secret, even at the cost of losing his lawyers. He ended up representing himself in court.

The WNYC podcast touches on how the just how secret Stingrays were at the pre-Snowden time—so secret that the FBI made law enforcement dismiss criminal cases rather than risk exposing its use of the secret snooping technology.

It also reveals what happened to Rigmaiden after he uncovered the widespread usage of Stingrays—as part of his tax fraud sentence, he was ordered to perform community service. He wound up at the ACLU, teaching them what he’d learned about the Stingray technology.

[WNYC]